In the photo: a snapshot of Standing Man during a protest in Istanbul in 2013 (photo via @zdeai)
Kasia just froze. Arms crossed in front of her chest, head straight up, eyes shut. She had decided to freeze motionless in the middle of Government square about three weeks before; just after, for the first time in years, she found herself amid hundreds of protesters. The news the evening before had reported that one of the Government’s Ministers had awarded the contract for the city’s waste management to a company he indirectly controlled.
Not since her university years had Kasia attended a demonstration. Back then she had been passionate and outspoken; her colorful clothes, her long tangled hair and a cigarette always pending from her lips stood as a demonstration of the youthful zeal that moved her. But after years of countless meetings and endless and pointless political debates, her passion had dwindled under lack of achievement and mounting frustration.
That morning, standing in the midst of agitated and colorful activists who looked just like she had a few years back, what Kasia had believed to be an inviolable path to societal change started to totter. All of these people, strangers to one another, had gathered in the same place for the same reason – the sensation of being on the right side of history, together with the undeniable consciousness that if they, the people, did not show up, things would continue to worsen. This made her blood boil again as it had so many years before.“Enough is Enough” read a large poster held high by a group of activists. “We want change,” shouted an angry chorus of hundreds of voices. But despite the energy and idealism for change, their hopes were short-lived. Those shouts that seemed to be able to humble the tallest of men achieved nothing: the Parliament remained stubbornly silent.
Only fifty uniformed men showed up, geared up as if they were to confront terrorists instead of a crowd demanding justice. Kasia felt frightened, but decided to stay in Government Square to the end. She wanted to know if anything had changed since she had last been on the front lines. It had not: talk, shout, talk, protest still seemed to be the pattern characterizing protests. As in her last months as a student activist, she was taken by a sense of deep frustration.
Kasia soon found herself asking: “Why, why is the base of the protest so narrow? The issue of the Minister affects everyone, so why are activists and sympathizers always the majority attending? Where was everyone else? How can they stay home?”
Years after her decision to stop attending activists groups Kasia still didn’t have an answer. The only certainty was that, just as back then, she felt that demonstrations seemed more about the release of personal and collective anger than anything else.
“Of course there are other reasons,” she sighed as if addressing a speaker making an annoying point. “But the most important concern for me at the moment is to understand why so many people who say they would like the Minister to resign don’t attend and it might be because the protestors’ anger and frustration are the sentiments that come out above all others.”
That same evening as she walked home, Kasia thought deeply about what a more effective protest would look like to her. It was maybe not so much about the actual demanding and shouting, but about trying something different; something with the ability to speak louder than words and, most importantly, something politicians were not used to be confronted with.
“Would it not be better to just sit in silence?” Kasia asked herself, “What if at the demonstration there were no banners and no shouting? The reasons people gathered were obvious. What if the protestors just stood in silence as a demonstration of something so blatant it did not need to be articulated?”
The idea of protestors standing in total silence obsessed Kasia’s imagination for the upcoming weeks. She imagined the new scenario over and over, adding new details every time. and could visualize how that day would unfold.She would not be alone; others would notice and join her. In less than an hour the whole of Government square would be silently up in arms. Those tucked behind the imposing walls of the Parliament would feel confused and, for the first time, frightened by the silence. They would feel frightened because no specific demand would be coming from that crowd gathered on the square. Kasia’s silent protest would not be about this or that – it would be a clear and unquestionable “Look at how things are. You have not been able to make them better. Why are you still in power? “.
The scene in the Square would be about questioning politicians and the system as a whole, compelling this in power to show their faces. In her imagination as a result of a large and silent majority, the Minister would have to appear and walk, head low, to address a motionless crowd that had grown from resembling a lonely Roman statue to have become a terra cotta army defending a claim for justice rather than decorating an emperor’s tomb. Kasia assumed the position – arms crossed in front of her chest, head straight up, eyes shut, heart hopeful.
This short story has been written for the Blog. It is dedicated to Standing Man.
Thanks to everyone who helped with comments: Livia, Hassan, Imad, Kasia, Timi, Jessika, Monica, Ieva, Boudi, David, Paolo