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HPU student helps Occupy Istanbul movement

    By Saige Martin. November 7, 2011 - 5:49 pm

ISTANBUL — In the second grade, at the age of 8, I lead my entire class to boycott the cafeteria food.

Why you may ask? Because it was low in quality, the portions varied daily, or as I told my class then, “It sucks.” So when 18 second-grade students didn’t eat lunch for the second day in a row, parents and teachers started asking what was going on. Some saw me as a trouble-maker but when our cafeteria food was improved, many students understood my madness.

You could say that my days in activism started in the second grade and it didn’t stop there. All throughout my schooling I have been involved with numerous boycotts, protests and campaigns.

I call myself an agent of change. I don’t seek the spotlight to boast about my achievements or to brag. I just see problems that I am passionate about and instead of complaining about them, I try to fix them, which is part of the reason I ran for Student Body President at HPU over one year ago.

But while in Istanbul I wanted to take things slow. I didn’t want to be involved in any clubs or organizations, and I certainly didn’t want to be leading any groups or fixing any problems. But alas I was bitten by the change-agent bug again and I find myself organizing the Occupy Istanbul event…for ALL of Turkey.

The recent uprising of the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York have spread like wild fire from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, from Los Angeles to Honolulu. The amazing thing is it didn’t stop there. The movement found itself on the streets of Madrid, in the squares of Italy and soon it will find itself in the bazaars and mosques of Istanbul, Turkey.

I sit in the student center at my university every morning and watch CNN or Al Jazeera as the images and videos of thousands of protestors line the streets of the New York Stock Exchange or in a European city and my activist blood starts pumping.

I started looking into flights to New York for a long weekend to join the 99 percent in their fight because I felt I needed to be a part of it.

I wanted to feel their energy, hear their message, and know that I was a part of the movement. Then I looked around. I saw that Turkey’s youth were in a worse economic situation than the youth of the United States. They have even less of a voice in the decision making processes and in their government and I realized that I didn’t have to book a $900 plane ticket to Manhattan; I could just bring the movement straight to Taksim Square (the center of Itanbul).

I immediately got in touch with friends and contacts in Turkey. Within two days I created a Facebook group and two days later we had 1,700 people attending and more then 10,000 pending invites. I have been on Skype calls with activists and planners of the Occupy movement in New York and Washington D.C. to learn about their strategies.

I have met with a number of lawyers to make sure that anyone protesting has a legal system to work with should they be arrested (just Google Turkish police brutality and you will see why). The media is contacting me left and right for interviews and they want more information. Quickly I am realizing that this has the chance to be huge and I hope it is.

Planning a protest movement in another country is nothing that I thought it would be. I am meeting people who were on in Tharir Square when the revolution started in Egypt and students from Madrid who slept in the city streets for two weeks to protest the government. Indeed this is the biggest learning experience of my life.

A bit cliché, but I think of it every meeting I go to here, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does,” to quote Margaret Mead.