Fight the Power
Strolling in the alleys of Beyoğlu, İstanbul, a friend and I felt the street spirit as we took portraits of each other before a stencil graffiti that combined the blurry face of a boy and the words Kardeşimsin Alexis ("You are my brother, Alexis"). We did this for the beauty of the street art, not thinking of the name which was somehow familiar. We only knew what exactly the stencil meant a few minutes later when we walked to İstiklal Street and found the walls of the Greek Consulate newly daubed with red paint by a dozen protestors.
The riots in Greece, which started when a 15 year old, Alexis of the graffiti, was killed by police in a small uprising, has now been going on for a few weeks. Greek youth have been protesting, burning, tearing down, and looting. In the process, they have inspired thousands in other countries, as the event in Istanbul proves. Authorities consider the killing as only a trigger, claiming that the riots are actually rooted in the general dissatisfaction of Greeks with the police, the state and the negative economical situation.
As I write these lines, I am still haunted by a film I saw last week: Spike Lee's groundbreaking "Do the Right Thing" (1989), which ends with the arson of an Italian-American pizzeria by African-Americans after the police sedation/murder of a black youth. I had the feeling that this act of retaliation wasn't just over the dead body, but over a long series of (supposed) inequalities. In the end, mind you, no one won.
Let me then clarify my position on what is going on in Greece and elsewhere: I do believe in the necessity, righteousness and power of activism, especially when it comes from students, from women, from workers, from ethnic, religious and sexual minorities - mostly because it's one of the few ways of self-expression for them, the suppressed. And it takes some ignorance to deny that some agents of the police and the state abuse their power - who can say that it was fair that the police killed the boy? But I wish I could believe in the good intention of some points in the current events, since activism for activism's sake does not mean a lot to me. I do not believe in the looting of stores for attention - that's called theft. I do not believe in youngsters trying on sunglasses in the looted stores as was shown on the news. Moreover, I do not believe in turning a certain teenager into an icon when people rarely raise their voices at similar events in their countries. In the Internet era, I find it most unlikely that most youngsters will rise up to create difference instead of showing cyber support, via Facebook, for a hero who earned that rank by, sorry, chance.
And then I ask questions: Did the male students in my high school, for instance, sometimes reject wearing the mandatory ties because they saw the absurdity of the rule or because they were kids who simply had to object as their age and position required this? Do you join those Facebook groups because you truly believe in the cause or do you join them and forget about them forever?
And more questions follow: So what is this? "Do the Right Thing" employs the rap song "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy at moments to deliver a message. Do those in the film, do those in the streets of Athens and other international centers, do we in general "fight the power" because there is inequality, oppression, unjustness, or simply because there is always the chance that fighting it is exciting and will eventually make us cool and powerful - for better or worse. My heart goes for the former choice.
P.S. I wish everyone a year full of beauty, thoughts and fresh experiences of things you have never done before.