At What Cost? The Strategic and Moral Dilemmas of anti-Authoritarian Struggle

Sehrazat Mart, University of Notre Dame

What accounts for differences in how young activists assess the risk and value of various non-violent protest activities in oppressive regimes? My research examines how the youth evaluate the strategic and moral worth of putting themselves at risk of state violence and prosecution in anti-authoritarian struggle and choose between creative and playful tactics versus confrontational and bold ones. I study a recent student movement in Turkey that started at Bogazici University – one of Turkey’s top universities – and grew into an all-encompassing movement for democracy and social justice despite continuous state repression. I have completed 102 semi-structured interviews with student activists and their parents and 100+ hours of participant observation at events like activist meetings and protests. I argue that intergenerational storytelling of past political struggles within families and numerous political settings plays a fundamental role in how young people perceive the costs and benefits of different protest tactics (e.g., regularly occupying numerous spaces in the name of a “democracy” watch and displaying symbols of women’s, minority’s, and LGBTQ movements on the university campus where it is relatively safer to protest vs. hosting protests in urban public squares and using controversial and uncompromising slogans that increase the likelihood of police intervention). Young activists listen to diverging stories of past political periods that indicate various political and moral wins and losses. Their interpretation of these past experiences in interaction with their sociocultural background and direct political observations leads to different assessments of the worthiness of making sacrifices for political change.

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 Presented in Session 125. Cultures of Calculation and Resistance