A citizens’ movement taking shape in Turkey
Something interesting is happening in Turkey. First of all, I see empathy on the streets. The other day one of the modern day protesters of Turkey was telling me how she had now realized what her sisters with headscarves went through in the recent past. “It was about being aware of what you are wearing by continuously thinking of possible reactions” she added, “in the past, dressing was automatic but now I am very much more conscious of what I wear. I have to think about the dress code for every occasion and I just do not like it.” For the first time, women with and without headscarves are not only demonstrating together, but also sharing an experience. I see that as a development in the right direction. Secondly, for first time in my half a century of living in this country, I see citizens aware of their rights and voicing their demands. They are not apologetic, as such pleas were in the past. They are asking for more and learning how to get it. A citizens’ movement is taking shape in Turkey. This is another step in the democratization process, and another step in the Europeanization of Turkey.
The citizens’ protests in Turkey started about two weeks ago. We are still having them in at least one city every day. Who these protesters are continues to be the million dollar question. The political establishment is trying in vain to recognize them. Why in vain? Only 20 percent of the part time protesters of Turkey are members of a political party or association. They are simply private citizens in action. That made it hard for the political establishment to get a hold of the situation. Look at the early responses. Only now is the idea of a local referendum emerging. Still, better late than never. Turkey’s private citizens demand a more participatory democracy, if you ask me. Secondly, they are young, but not that young. The average age is around 28. And they are part-time protesters, as around 50 percent of them have regular jobs. Thirdly, police brutality and Prime Minister Erdoğan’s remarks made them take to the streets. Only about 20 percent were out on the streets for environmental reasons, according to a KONDA survey conducted June 4-6. The rest were out there for freedoms of some sort or another.
As I have noted, the average age of protesters is around 28, which is not that young. It becomes more interesting when you look at how they first heard of police brutality and took to the streets. The average age of those who got the news from social media is around 26. For conventional media users, the average age is around 40. This is bad news for the political establishment. Firstly, juxtapose the average protester age of 28 with 29, which is the average age of the population as a whole, and behold: 50 percent are below that average in the country. Political parties need to understand the feelings on that square. These kids are going to vote. Secondly, no matter how much you control the conventional media, there is now social media that can easily circumvent your message. The younger people are, the more social media they use. That is not good for the political establishment. Thirdly, the other day, Prime Minister Erdoğan was talking about how he solved the drinking water problem of Istanbul. That was about 20 years ago. These demonstrators were young kids then. They do not see clean drinking water as a privilege, but as a right. Mayor Erdogan is right to take the credit for that leap in public services. It’s a pity that this feels irrelevant to the state of the country today.