Global Politics

If you can't beat 'em, flash mob 'em!


Credit: Dalia Mortada

Flash mob protesters perform near an outdoor concert, just outside one of Istanbul's heavily used ferry stations.

You’ve probably seen videos of flash mobs: people going about their business, say in a train station, like this one in Antwerp a few years ago, when suddenly, the music starts. Then folks in the crowd start dancing in sync, and, eventually, they’re singing.

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It’s usually just for fun, sometimes for wedding proposals, or a poke at authority. But in Istanbul, in the wake of the Gezi Park protests against the government, that kind of poking could get you into trouble.

That hasn’t stopped people like Kemal Uzun and his friends from teasing officials with an upbeat, ska-like song and dance routine that delivers the message, "We’re not backing down."

“It should be a funny and happy dance, but also giving the message,” says Kemal, adding that by not making it a serious song of protest, they probably attract a bigger audience. “That song was the best because it says, 'This is just the beginning and the struggle must go on.'”

Kemal and his group perform in public spaces and at big events to get lots of visibility. The audience gets into it, shaking off the initial surprise and eventually clapping along and chanting with the song: “This is just the beginning, the struggle continues.”

Kemal has created a kind of flash mob collective. Sometimes a performance results in new members.

When the weather is nice, Kemal uses an Istanbul park to teach the choreography to newcomers who want to participate in the next flash mob. But at a recent rehearsal, the park guards stopped him from plugging in his stereo or publicizing. In the past, police left him alone. Kemal joked that he hopes it’s happening because his group is finally big enough to be noticed.

“Our goal is to do it with, like, 100 people in Taksim Square without any prior notice. We are going to show up in the street and it’s going to be spectacular, we hope,” Kemal says. “We want this to be remembered as the dance of the protest of Gezi Park.”

Until then, Kemal and his growing band of 35 or so will keep popping up at different venues, before they make their debut in the city’s central Taksim Square.

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    Credit: Dalia Mortada

    Two women perform in a flash mob near an outdoor concert. The woman are mocking the violent police crackdown on protesters in Istanbul and on the doctors that treated them.

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    Credit: Dalia Mortada

    This flash mob performs to an up-beat song to bring a lightness to their protest.

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    Credit: Dalia Mortada

    Protesters dance in sync to a song that uses a popular protest slogan: "This is only the beginning, the struggle continues."

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    Credit: Dalia Mortada

    Kemal Uzun teaches flash mob choreography in a local Istanbul park. He wears a sign on his back because cops guarding the park did not allow him to hang it publicly.

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    Credit: Dalia Mortada

    When he's not working as a business consultant, Kemal Uzun helps others learn the flash mob dance. The performing group has grown since they formed during the Gezi Park protest movement over the summer.