How could the American 'Squad' affect Turkey?

Four American congresswoman are changing the dynamics of US politics with their progressive policies. The clues they provide for the future of global politics may affect Turkey's political soul-searching.

Seren Selvin Korkmaz

A steadily growing segment of the population in Turkey is in search of a hero would could salvage politics from its static position. For some, this hero could lead a new political party. For others, it could be a leader who would initiate a transformation within already exisiting political parties.

Preparations for a new party have started in the government camp following the rupture that took place during the March 31 and June 23 elections. New political actors have also emerged from the opposition bloc, offering alternatives to a society in need of a new leader.

Would a new leader truly solve Turkey's problems? Or do we instead need a more rooted and bulldozer transformation?

Similar questions are gnawing at the minds of progressive people across the world. Our current political system is ill-suited to the new age. Its ideals are inadequate and have led to a stalemate. Brand new ideas and strategies are needed. Some of the experiences that have emerged as a result of such a quest could lead the way forward for progressive Turks.

Beyond the usual

We have much to learn from the stories of four women who have defied US President Donald Trump and have initiated a brand new political style in the US House of Representatives. Referring to themselves as "The Squad", they were all elected to Congress from the Democrat Party in November 2018. They are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. All four women, with their age and socio-economic and ethnic background do not fit the usual US politician profile. Through the struggle they have endured in order to gain political positions, but also their distinctive style of conducting politics provide us with clues to the inception of a political revolution.

They regard politics as teamwork and have won the primaries in their districts against "strong male" candidates who are rich, influential and professional politicians. All four of them are members of the Democratic Socialists. All of them have been nominated and supported by the platform called "Justice Democrats." The struggle they went through at the onset of their careers was regarded as virtually undoable.

They're now amongst the most discussed politicians in the US and are working to tackle some of American society's most pressure issues. Their policies are progressive and defend the rights of the downtrodden, the poor, the outcasts, students and immigrants.

Are women just disinterested?

Why are women largely left out of Turkish politics? Politicians in Turkey often urge women and young people to join active politics. But do women not participate in politics because they are disinterested or because they quit too easily?

Or are the barriers that were placed before them keeping them at bay? As in Turkey, US politics is a field dominated by the priviliged and affluent. Needless to say Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old bartender, does not fit into this category. Neither do Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib who are the first female Muslims elected to the House of Representatives, or even Ayanna Pressley who was the first African-American woman to be elected from her district.

Organized structure

Progressive people in the US believed transformation would come through rooted changes. For how could it be possible to build a future when the environment and neighborhood in which one was born are obstacles to one's participation in politics? The answer lies in breaking the invisible rules of the system. Yet this requires a systematic and organizational effort based on solidarity.

The platform referred to as "Justice Democrats" was launched following this very approach. Founded in 2017, the Justice Democrats Platform aims to break the dominance of money and personal interests. It supports disadvantaged candidates that have never been elected in their districts.

The platform provides those candidates with financial and strategic support throughout their respective campaigns. The platform's most important characteristic is that it promotes solidarity as well as a teamwork spirit that serve to sustain the motivation of candidates that have launched campaigns from a disadvantaged position. In other words, the victory of these four women, who have emerged in US politics with their defiant and progressive attitude, is not only attributable to their personal motivation. There is an organized structure that has been supporting them from the very beginning.

Long-term transformation

The "Justice Democrats" also set off with the challenge summoning all progressives throughout world: is transformation possible with the existing political parties or is a new movement absolutely necessary? In the US' bipartite system, the congresswomen opted for a revolution within the Democrat Party. The impact these four women have had on the Democrat Party has rekindled an interest in politics for many people. It has led many from those politically-excluded segments of society to come to the realisation that they too could "do it".

The Squad quartet's approach to Trump's rightwing populist policies cannot itself be considered as yet another itiration of populism. Their resounding popularity has to do with their bold and effective discourses. Rather than replicating another form of the identity politics that have prevailed since 1980, and thereby playing into the hands of rightwing populists, their approach stresses class cleavages. The "Squad" have coupled class inequalities, insecurities and the extreme commodification of basic needs with issues such as the right to health and education. They have politicized them and emphasized the problems of recognition and exclusion. Because of their social classes, with their immigrant and "other" identities, they themselves are the first concerned by such policies.

Trump's target

With their political agenda grounded in "social and political justice", these women have become direct targets for Trump. He has tweeted about Ilhan Omar using a racist discourse Turks are more than familiar with.

Trump wrote: "So interesting to see 'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how..."

Muslim representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who criticized Israeli policies against Palestine, were banned from entering Israel upon Trump's call. These women have become the target of the dominant populist politics as, whilst reshaping the political landcaspe with their progressive and universal policies, those women are unravelling the system at its core.

What about Turkey?

In short, the strategy of these four women succeeded in spurring dynanism inside the Democrat Party and in US politics as a whole. Their progressive policies are undoubtedly setting the agenda ahead and will carry significant consequences for the future of the US. Now, what about Turkey?

Turkey's political scene is not short of women who could well lead a similar transformation.

But nothing can be achieved solely by way of these women's individual motivation and efforts. Rather than complain about the supposed "scarcity of women and young candidates" during election campaigns, one should partake in the finding of a solution with platforms similar to that of the "Justice Democrats". At this stage, female politicians currently active in political parties should take part in the process.

From rural to universal norms

A wide-ranging participation should be the objective. Such a process should not confined to those hailing from privileged backgrounds. An inclusive platform that would carry the daily life problems to the political scene as well as involve women in politics would greatly contribute to Turkey's future and the redifinition of its political landscape.

The invisible rules of classic rural policies as well as their age-old mechanisms and nepostic networks ought to be removed. In their place, universal political developments should be adopted as a lightening rod. In the Turkish context, the most formidable obstacle could well the shift from rural to universal norms.

That is precisely why - as the debate over "new or renewed parties" is ongoing - the time is ripe to unite and seek an alternative, progressive vision.

*Political scientist, General Director of Istanbul Political Research Institute, Ph.D. candidate at Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies

* Forum kategorimiz çok çeşitli türde içeriğe açıktır. Gazete Duvar'ın editoryal politikasıyla uyumlu olmak zorunda değildir.