Let me reiterate: cops are the same all over the world. My friend and colleague, Noel Ignatiev says "All over the world cops beat up poor people; that is their job, and it has nothing to do with color."
I spent the majority of the day in my hotel room yesterday. In every country that is not the United States, May Day is International Workers Day. Here in Istanbul, there was an attempt to hold a rally in Taksim Square in honor of the union activists who were killed there in 1977. Every year they try to do this and every year it is squashed by the police. This year was no exception.
I went for a brief walk and was confronted by the image of amassed firepower across the street from my hotel. Suddenly I understood why the cop was being so aggressive yesterday; he probably thought that I was some sort of agitator for the rally. The rally was set for Taksim Square about a mile from my hotel, but the cops were EVERYWHERE. They were decked out in full riot gear with shields. I thought better of taking a walk and went back into the hotel.
Now to prevent people from getting to the rally, the Mayor of Istanbul effectively cut all transportation to and from Taksim Square. That meant there was no way to get here, but really also no way to leave unless it was on foot. And since many of the roads were blocked by the above referenced police, you could get to a point where you were allowed no further. And there is no point trying to explain something to a teenager with an M16.
So I sat in the lobby of the hotel and looked at the news and saw all those images that everyone else saw. I am not remotely interested in seeing people squirted with fire hoses, so I did not go down there to take photos. Also a foreigner in a situation like that runs the risk of being misunderstood by gesture or presence. I am not a photojournalist and I am not a hero. I did feel my heart break for the people as they were hosed down. I wished I could do something.
The police presence was reduced in the evening and I had to get some dinner. I went to a place for a kebab sandwich and saw the school buses that they used to round up the protesters. Some of the people detained had been on the bus since the beginning of the day. There were armed guards protecting the buses and the same massive police presence. I ate really fast.
Today, May 2, it is a different story. It is really as if May 1 did not happen and the city was not occupied for the entire day. The Turkish people seem to have taken all of this in stride - something akin to the running of the bulls in Pamplona. It happens every year, some people get hurt and then we move on.
We moved Labor day from May to September in the US. Most people don't connect this change with the Haymarket Massacre, the Wobblies or Eugene Debs. We don't really think about solidarity with foreign workers or unions. We take the right to assemble for granted (even when it is denied like at the Republican National Convention in NYC). It really made me think about how precious it is to be able to walk down the street in solidarity with others. All over the world, even at home, this is becoming a harder experience to have.