Standing in silence at symbolic locations to protest government abuses and memorialize victims

Poster made to honor this tactic

Turkish protesters stood in silence at symbolic locations to draw attention to government abuses and unmet promises.

Mass demonstrations began in Istanbul in May 2013 as protests aimed at halting government plans to develop a popular urban park grew into a broader social movement to protest increasingly authoritarian policies and the violent response to peaceful demonstrations.

The first silent protester was performance artist Erdem Gunduz, now often referred to as “the standing man.” He stood for hours in silence at the Ataturk Cultural Centre in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the center of Turkey’s protest movement.

The story of Gunduz’s silent protest spread rapidly on social media and inspired others to initiate similar standing protests. Individuals stood in silence in parks, sites of conscience where historic acts of violence occurred, or in other prominent public spaces. Notably, the tactic was adopted by the “Taksim Square Book Club,” whose members read books while standing in silent protest.

Graphic is a poster created by Kaan Eryilmaz

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

By standing in silence, alone and vulnerable, individuals who use this tactic send a powerful message that represents a strong counterpoint to government characterizations of protesters as violent or terrorists. This can make it difficult for the government to justify a strong security response to the protests, and offer one way to bypass restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly.  However, the solitary nature of the tactic can also pose risks in certain contexts, where protesters may be safer as part of a crowd.

Another strength of this tactic is its adaptability. It can be implemented by individuals or groups, and can be used to protest, build awareness, memorialize victims or bear witness to human rights abuses.

It also draws attention to those public spaces that exist in any society or community that have symbolic power, either because they represent sites of current or past human rights violations, or highlight positive values that demonstrate what is possible.