I always start explaining my doctoral research with this story: When the #OccupyGezi movement began, I wasn’t in Istanbul. In fact, I wasn’t even in Germany. Unexpectedly, I participated in the #OccupyGezi protests in Liberty Park, New York, where the #OWS (Occupy Wall Street) movement had taken place.
While regularly communicating with my friends, I followed the entire movement through social media. One day, I saw that the activists had transformed a container in Gezi Park into a ‘Revolution Museum.’ In a short video I watched, similar to many collaborative initiatives in Gezi Park, this collectively established museum displayed sea goggles, gas masks, and berets left over from the protests. The walls of the container were adorned not only with slogans that had been shared during the demonstrations but also with printed copies of images circulating on the internet. Thus, the activists demonstrated what had already been inscribed into history from the days of the Occupation. Therefore, social media, the primary outlet for information related to the clashes, urgent needs lists, and images, must also be archived. Moreover, unless digital-born materials are archived, they risk vanishing completely. For instance, a video post documenting human rights violations or live broadcasts also narrates the #OccupyGezi. This led me to ponder: How could the days of the Occupation be told if there was a city museum in Istanbul?
This question drove me to pursue my doctoral research on the digital-born materials that remained from the Occupy movements in New York and Istanbul. It connected me with activists engaged with video activism and their archiving during and/or after the Occupy movements, both at Interference Archive in New York and at back.ma in Istanbul. Using grounded theory, the research was built upon analyzing over 50 face-to-face interviews.
The central axis of this sociological research, centered on the concept of ‘the Commons,” first discusses how the occupation spaces in both New York and Istanbul were established within the context of neoliberal common policies. The second section explores the ethical implications of documenting visual memory in early 21st-century social movements, particularly in the context of video activism. The third and final section delved into the similarities and differences between autonomous archiving practices concerning video activism in the Interference Archive and back.ma within the framework of the grassroots archiving theory.
In conclusion, it’s revealed that video activism is seen to carry ethical debates within itself, motivated by the regular documentation of human rights violations, which distinguishes it from citizen journalism. Moreover, by circulating the recordings on social media, the image transforms into an activist, namely, an activist video. Lastly, it was realized that autonomously archived records of actions play a significant role in non-linear and non-authoritarian history writing.