People's Parks: 5 Public Spaces That Launched Social Movements
1. Gezi Park - Istanbul
The protest movement that has now gripped Turkish society, galvanizing calls all over the country for social change, began when activists only sought to save a local park from being replaced with a shopping mall. Gezi Park, a simple park lined with towering sycamore trees, is the last significant green space in Istanbul, a city now overwhelmed by luxury hotels, pricey lofts, massive shopping malls and gleaming tourist attractions.
Though they began as an effort to save the park from being demolished, the protests have evolved into a full-scale movement for political change. The park has come to represent, for many Turks, the government's disregard for the public's voice. For the Turkish government, however, the park wasn't just the location of a new mall—it was also a space where their opponents could organize against them. When Turkish police attacked protesters with water cannons and tear gas, they only served to anger and empower protesters and allies who were watching from the sidelines.
2. People's Park - Berkeley
Berkeley's history as a hotbed of social activism is long and storied. People's Park, a green community space located south of the UCB campus, was often the hub of such activity. The space itself was a symbol of resistance, illegally appropriated on UCB property by activists. In the 60s, the park was a center of anti-war organizing. Under pressure from Governor Ronald Reagan to crack down on protesters, university administration announced plans to turn the park into a soccer field in 1969. On May 15, on a day that would come to be known as Bloody Thursday, over 3,000 people gathered for a march to People's Park.
Though the rally began as a discussion on the Arab-Israeli conflict, it quickly devolved into a demonstration to "take back the park" when Governor Reagan sent 300 California Highway Patrol officers and Berkeley police officers to clear the park and close it off with a wire fence. Protesters closed in on the park, attempting to tear down the fence. Police responded by throwing tear gas canisters and swinging nightsticks through the crowd. When attempts to disperse the protest were unsuccessful, Alameda County officers took out their shot guns to fire buckshots at the crowd. One protester, a student, was killed. Another was blinded. At least 128 students were sent to the hospital. For years, the event would serve as a symbol of anti-establishment activism. Today, the park remains open to all, serving as a community hub for students, residents, and the city's homeless population.
3. Zucotti Park - New York
Zucotti Park became infamous in 2011 when it became the center of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Occupy Wall Street was criticized heavily for being aimless and disorganized but there were themes prevalent throughout its course. There was an anti-establishment bent that criticized the Obama administration for not holding bankers accountable when the economy tanked. There were students upset with rising student debt and former homeowners who lost their homes in the mortgage crisis. There was an overall sentiment that the government was not doing enough to protect the middle and lower classes. The Occupy Wall Street movement inspired duplicates all over the U.S. and the world, including Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, and Barcelona.
For three months, hundreds of protesters denouncing 'The One Percent' made Zucotti their campground, setting up tents and operations right in the park. The location was strategic—Zucotti was selected for its proximity to New York's financial district. Though privately-owned, the park is publicly accessible and required to be open 24 hours a day, which is why NYPD were restricted from kicking protesters off the space past curfew hours. However, NYPD finally interfered when Brookfield Office Properties, the real estate firm that owns the park, complained of sanitation issues.
On November 15, during the night, police invaded the park and began clearing out protesters. They arrested more than 200 people. Video of the protest went viral, depicting NYPD as unnecessarily aggressive and violent. When protesters attempted to reoccupy the park more than a month later, police retaliated once again, reportedly using pepper spray to force the campers out.
4. Hyde Park - London
One of the largest parks in London, the world-famous Hyde Park spans 630 acres in Central London, making it a prime spot for concerts, speeches and protests. People of all backgrounds and political views use the park's "Speakers' Corner" as a soap-box to sound off in public. The Corner is a paved section of Hyde Park where almost all manner of public speech, debate or conversation is permitted, barring that which police deem illegal. From Karl Marx to George Orwell ro Vladimir Lenin—Hyde Park has provided a platform of free speech. In the 1860s, the Reform League organized massive protests to call for the voting rights of working class men. In 1908, over 300,000 women flooded the park in a march for women's suffrage. The site is the location of solidarity demonstrations, marches, and vigils. And for the past few years, Hyde Park has served as the annual gathering place for thousands of London's pro-cannabis activists every year on April 20th.
5. Laleh Park - Tehran
The Mourning Mothers of Laleh Park meet at the Tehran Park on Saturdays to demonstrate against the deaths, arrests, or disappearances of their spouses and children at the hands of Iranian security forces. Dressed in black, they carry signs demanding the government be held accountable for its human rights violations and set up small shrines devoted to their loved ones. The park is located in central Tehran, near the university, making it a prime spot for visibility by passers-by, security forces, and government officials.
In 2010, security agents invaded Laleh Park. They attacked and arrested more than 30 Mourning Mothers, shoving them into police cars. Many of the activists involved in Mourning Mothers continue to be detained to this day, accused of spreading propaganda against the regime. One year after the 2010 incident, the Mourning Mothers returned to Laleh Park to continue their protest.