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When Do Small Events Trigger Massive Protests? The Case of 2013 Gezi Protests

Mon, August 18, 2:30 to 4:10pm, TBA


Focusing on the 2002 antiwar protests and Occupy Wall Street, to the Arab Spring and the recent uprisings in Greece, Spain, Brazil, Turkey and Ukraine, social movement scholars have studied mobilization, political structure and motivations driving participation. The unfolding of protests and issue expansion have been understudied. In an attempt to fill in this gap, this article studies the mechanisms whereby small protests turn into mass protests on the example of the Turkish Gezi Park protests. In May 2013, about 50 protestors started a peaceful sit-in movement in Istanbul’s Gezi Park to prevent its demolition. Following disproportionate police intervention, millions of people took the streets of Istanbul and other cities across the country. What was so special about the Park that triggered such a large civilian reaction? Scholars have demonstrated that state repression may encourage protestors to retaliate (Francisco, 1995). They have also noted that public events may momentarily lead to boundary deactivation among antagonist parties, allowing them to forge coalitions (Mische, 2003). Building on these works, we hypothesize that two mechanisms account for scale shift: The continuous use of disproportionate violence against protesters generated feelings of injustice and abhorrence, which encouraged and sustained participation. The ‘politically uncharged’ nature of the Park issue (issue character) transcended existing divides, bringing previously antagonist parties together. We test this hypothesis using data from participant observation, interviews, and an online survey with 1376 protesters. Findings of this paper help elucidate the role of issue character on protest intensity and duration.