The Campaign of Darkness for Light mobilized 30 million people in Turkey to flick their lights on and off as a public demonstration against government corruption. Corruption had been an open secret and yet the public felt apathetic and powerless to end it. With many citizens afraid to participate in political action, organizations needed a tactic of low personal risk that would help overcome the sense of isolation that comes with fear. The Campaign gave people an easy and no-risk action everyone could take — simply turning off their lights at the same time each evening — to show their displeasure with the lack of concerted action against corruption.
The campaign was originally conceived in response to a scandal that revealed extensive connections between government officials and organized crime. In the month prior to the event, organizers launched a massive publicity campaign. They formed alliances with grassroots organizations and unions, asking them to fax petitions and information on the protest campaign to their members, who in turn would send the fax on to their friends and contacts. They also enlisted columnists, radio personalities and TV broadcasters to post public reminders.
Organizers initially proposed that citizens turn off their lights for one minute each night. People then began to blink their lights on and off. By the second week, communities began to improvise, initiating different street actions, including banging pots and pans. By the time organizers halted the action, the campaign had gone on for more than a month.
Although some of the officials implicated in the scandal remain in parliament, there has been a great deal of political and legal change since the campaign, including the trial of several businessmen, police, military personnel and mafia leaders, campaigns within parliament against corruption, and the replacement of many politicians who failed to deal with state corruption.
For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study and view this video - 1 Dakika Karanlık / 1 Minute Darkness.
New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.
In Turkey, the participation of large numbers of people in a campaign not only provided a measure of safety, but encouraged more and more people — millions, ultimately — to become involved.
The action people were asked to take was extraordinarily simple. It required no preparation and very little commitment, encouraging wide participation. The tactic is thus conceptually easy to adapt to other situations. In fact, similar tactics have been used in many situations around the world. People in Zambia honked their car horns at a given time every Friday to protest the president’s decision to change the constitution in order to remain in power. People in Chile protested the Pinochet regime by blaring their car horns, banging pots and pans in their apartment windows and marching in the streets. Common to each campaign is the attempt to make the widespread nature of public concern evident to a population which has been ruled by fear and feels isolated, alone and defeated.
Tactics of this nature have the virtue of making the invisible visible. They should be measured by their ability to stimulate a sense of solidarity in a population and to help redefine new political space in which more citizens are willing to act together.
But, while these tactics may be conceptually simple, their success is not easy to replicate. Organizers were not able to revive their tactic on the same scale just months later, despite the existence of many of the same issues and mechanisms. Once achieved, the momentum of such a tactic needs to be harnessed to drive the movement forward.