Confessions of a cowardly mother
By Aileen - 18/10/2009
"For hours after the attack on Taksim the whole neighborhood looked like a warzone. Police charging everywhere. Teargas everywhere. The black block anarchists were fighting back. Citizens who didn’t even know what the IMF was got trapped in between. In clouds of teargas. Horrible sightings. Horrible." - Battal: Resistanbul 06 10 09 We were there only a month ago, Ruth and I. In the wonderful bar and meeting rooms of Haymatlos off to the side of Taksim, where the /ETC – Istanbul was held, we met people preparing the Resistanbul Days of Protest Against IMF/WB, we stayed in the home of one of them, shared workshops, food and ideas with others, felt confused sometimes by all the tremendous activity going on around us in languages we couldn't understand, impressed by so much energy. Following accounts of police violence against the protesters last week, I kept picturing these wonderful people in my mind in a place still fresh in my memory, wishing I could send them a magical shield to protect them from harm, trusting in their courage and conviction, but still fearful of the harm that could come to them. And I felt ashamed of myself, because at the same time I felt relieved that my son was not with them. I confess, I am a cowardly mother. When our new friends in Istanbul heard about the kind of music my son makes, they said he should come to Istanbul for the days of protest, offered to make sure he had a place to stay, suggested he could perform with some of the other bands there. Sitting there in the magical, magnificent city of Istanbul, it was easy to imagine my son there. On the way home, though, along with the experience of crossing borders, the idea of my gentle son facing Turkish police began to appeal less and less to me. After I got home, I mentioned it to him, sent him relevant links, but did not encourage him to take off time from work or offer to pay travel costs for him to go to Istanbul. Although I would not have stopped him, I confess I was relieved that he didn't go. Following accounts from the protests together last week, we both regretted it. Again I felt haunted by the memory of a screening of Oliver Ressler's "Disobbedienti" some years ago. While I have been consistently impressed by Oliver's work that is thoughtful and intelligent, not sensationalist, but insightful and thought-provoking, there was a brief moment in that video that suddenly made me feel ill: a fleeting image of a policeman beating a young protester – who looked like my son. Again and again since that evening, that mental image has returned to me and made me question myself, my values, my role as a mother, everything I want for and from my children. I confess that I can't bear to think of my lovely son being hurt. Although he is nineteen now, responsible for his own life, passionately idealistic and impressively well informed (about Marx and Mao, the Spanish Civil War and the Weatherman Underground and Students for a Democratic Society, the Zapatistas and Naomi Klein), and although I love to watch him on stage performing his texts as hip hop music or spoken word at poetry slams, when I look at him, I see all the nineteen years of his life at once. I see the baby I carried in my arms, the little boy under pressure from other boys to be loud and rough and assertive, which he somehow managed to survive intact. I still see him lying in a hospital bed delirious with pain, and the thought of him being in pain again terrifies me. And what terrifies me even more is the thought that it could be my fault. Not long ago, a young woman sitting across from me at a table gave me a knowing look and said, "You were one of those mothers, that generation of women who dragged their children along everywhere in public, even to demonstrations." Yes, I confess, I was one of those mothers. When my 19-year-old son was two and a half, he was already confidently marching around St. Stephen's Square in Vienna passing out flyers with information about violence against women in war zones. I couldn't hold on to both him and his baby brother in a buggy precariously overloaded with a changing bag, baby food and stacks of papers and flyers, so I made sure that he could recognize the symbols marking the women's info tables and told him to go there, if he couldn't find me, made sure he would recognize my earring, because anyone wearing that symbol would know my name and could help get back to me. And I let him go at the age of two and a half. My children have been going to protests and demonstrations since before they could even walk or talk. At the time, I was convinced that it was right and necessary to take them, even in situations that made me question my own sanity. I remember finding myself with an impatient infant struggling to escape from the perpetually overloaded buggy, an exhausted toddler drooping on my shoulders, trapped between two groups of protesters encircled by police moving in closer, the nearest exit – beyond the circle of police – a staircase to the underground that I couldn't possibly negotiate with the buggy. I remember mindless murmurings of reassurance to a small child frightened by serious faces and candles in the dark on a cold evening in the Main Square, and hopelessly inadequate explanations in response to little boys' questions about gatherings of angry women. But I still felt we needed to be there. I was one of those mothers. When and how did I become such a cowardly mother? Perhaps I have merely shed former illusions about my ability to protect my children. But maybe something else has happened: maybe the act of protesting has indeed become more dangerous. From Seattle to Genoa and on from there, from one gathering of all-too-powerful, non-elected decision-makers to the next, from Pittsburgh all the way even to the traditional May 1st demonstration in the quiet little city where I live, I have the impression that the repression of any expression of protest is becoming increasingly violent, ugly, brutal, traumatic – and I confess that it scares me. I am not happy with the way the world is, I don't want to simply accept it as it is. I don't want to feel too small and helpless to make any kind of difference and just resign myself to trying make merely my own immediate surroundings more comfortable. As a parent, I never wanted to teach my children only to look out for themselves. I still believe that my children are incredibly privileged, and I still hope that they can make valuable contributions to the society we live in. But I am afraid that the opportunities to do so are becoming more and more limited – and more and more dangerous. So I watched the reports coming in from Istanbul, fearing for all the people known and unknown caught in the violent repression, feeling guilty that my beautiful, idealistic son wasn't among them, feeling cowardly relief that my beautiful, gentle son wasn't among them. It was an old feminist slogan that the personal is political, but now I feel that has turned around. Every time another protester is hurt by brutal repression, I feel frightened and angry, because that protester could be my child, and now the political feels personal – very personal.