Sunday, 2 June 2013

This IS about a park

A slogan circulates on social networks about the protests in Istanbul: "This is not about a park, this is about democracy".

I understand why it may appear important to whoever invented the slogan to show their demands fit into a greater scheme of things. Their intuition is right on one point: it certainly works better for drawing the attention of the world's public if you characterise your struggle as that for democracy other than just for "some stupid park".

These other things – being heard, condemnation of the abuse of state power, freedom of expression and of the press, respect of minorities' rights – are of course all valuable, and don't misunderstand me, I am all for it: fully, unconditionally, with no cynicism, and for those who are genuinely advancing this more general democratic agenda.

However, there is nothing wrong had it all been only about a park. It's perfectly ok, even more than that. Let me explain why.

Cases like this are a boringly eternal return of the same. They are attempts of appropriation of the common goods through forms of modern enclosures where public spaces, places, the environment are taken away from the sphere of the public and are subjected to the logic of private profit-making. These operations bare little collective benefit, especially to the local residents who should be the primary holders of the right to the city. This is not only the right to have the city work also for them, but foremost the right to take part in the planning process about how their city should be built and organised.

Let's demystify one thing. We are not talking about The Common Good, but about the common goods. The debate about what is the general common good is a complicated one, and the term can easily be (has been) appropriated and mystified. Instead, the common goods are, well, goods: very concrete things such as land, places, squares, and public parks.

As long as they are commons, they provide some public service and are by definition under some societal jurisdiction. Indeed, in a way, the commons are societal at a more fundamental level than any other modern right or welfare state service. Even historically, before we had the latter, the political sphere has emerged as a question about how and what it means to govern the commons.

So, the question of the commons is the question about the character of our democracy. Unless we want our democracy to be only a debate about so called civil rights and the likes (again, don't misunderstand me, I'm all for it), we need the commons, for they are one important thing what democracy is all about. In a way, the commons are the fundamental material basis of the democracy and so their defence and extension is also the defence and extension of the democracy.

I'm not all that well informed to know all the demands boiling in the pot nor do I know what sorts of heterogony of ends has culminated in the Gezi Park protests. All I want to say is that there would have been nothing belittling had this Istanbul thing been "only about a park", because for that specific reason it would've very much also been about democracy. In other words, the slogan could've well been: "This is about a park, therefore this is about democracy."

Long live Gezi Park!