“Remembering the best days of our lives,” read many Turkish social media posts in the first days of June. Although all the photos were filled with tear gas, those who seven years ago joined Gezi protests that spanned the country for more than a month chose to reminisce about the breath of joy they inhaled in the summer of 2013. Around the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic, George Floyd shouted his last words: “I can’t breathe.” When his last cry resonated with hundreds of thousands, causing them to take to the streets, Gezi veterans began spotting the numerous similarities between the rebellions. As demonstrations in support took off in European cities, it was as if the Long Walk of Dignity had resumed after a seven-year hiatus, and yet again in June. It was as though this walk, once in Tahrir and Gezi, was proving not to be intermittent, but consistent enough to keep going from Minneapolis to Trafalgar Square, all the while shouting the same word, dignity.
Dignity is a curious feature of human beings: it is never clear whether it is innate to our kind or whether we learn to feel indignation after we are taught the word. Whichever it may be, as soon as we learn the word, we become a part of a certain artery in history. Unknowingly, we put our name on a contract with those before us who declared that dignity is an inviolable feature of being human. This contract — even though we strongly criticize the Eurocentric understanding of the world — was put on paper in Europe during the Enlightenment and became a part of the human rights declaration. Since then, all around the world, we have shouted this word whenever oppression or inequality obliged mankind to prove that humans have worth and that their value is not connected to their market price. Today, after seven years, the word once again takes the center stage in a mass rebellion.
Our times do not require a novice Marxist “searching for signs of revolution” or an overexcited analyst to acknowledge that capitalism as we know it is in its last act. The contract of capitalism is in serious conflict with the contracts of democracy and human rights. However, Europe, the continent that is supposed to be the patron of the latter two, continues to look like a massive make-it-up-as-you-go experiment when it comes to the crisis of the system. On one side, there is Britain’s current government, with its Social Darwinist policies that became more visible thanks to the pandemic, and on the other side, there are a few states like Germany that are desperately trying to patch up the wrecked boat of the social state against the coming flood. Amidst the troubles of rising right-wing populism, the paralyzing pandemic, and anxiety due to the disintegration of the Union, Europe seems too puzzled to recall its moral and political bearings. The old continent needs a determined jolt to remind her that her name is still under a contract obliging her to stand up for human dignity, regardless of its weakened global political status.
If the pandemic allows, the first meeting of The New International will be held in September in Iceland. As one of the fifty members of its advisory council, I feel a personal responsibility to come up with a genius idea that will save the world — an absurd naiveté that has never gone unpunished, yet has kept our kind more or less intact throughout world history whenever it has been shared by many. As someone who experienced uprisings from the crisis in Argentina to Gezi, including Tahrir and Al Kasbah, the best “advice” that I can come up with is to remind Europe of her obligation to recognize the global uprising in the name of dignity, the word she was once so passionate about. She has to acknowledge that the consolidated one-ness of humanity does not allow the securing of human dignity within the walls of the continent anymore. The responsibility to take an active side in this new political reality is imminent. The other option is to lose her moral ground, which has already been deeply cracked by the refugee crisis. Humanity should once again be told that our sense of dignity is our only feature that might have the ability to cut through class differences and bring people together to renew the contract of humanity. And we already have enough know-how to articulate new ways to fulfill this urgent need.
The word dignity instantly calls to mind the image of clenched teeth or a fist. It has always been associated with pain or anger. However, seven years ago, during Gezi and in several similar uprisings, something groundbreaking happened in our understanding of the word. The image of dignity transformed from anger into one of shared joy. That is why today, people dare to say that those were the best times of their lives despite the many lives lost. The prolonged protests did more than resist oppression: they managed to create glimpses of a joyful life even under violent attacks. They proved that, even when not granted by those in power, dignity still is a truly inviolable and inalienable feature, as the European revolutionaries once wrote. Their joy was amplified through social media, so the word traveled. That is why today, even those who weren’t there remember those days with overwhelming joy. Personally, I dare to expect first The New International and eventually the people of Europe to multiply this new stance and make it a global motto. Today, since an increasing number of analysts from the opposite side of the political spectrum expect the rebellions to reoccur, it might be time for Europe to renew its promise of human dignity and, this time around, revise the contract that protects our kind against the indignity of capitalism. It may be only words, but words are tiny mighty things that have always changed the world.