Despite the fact that the protests in Turkey had been raging for days, the international media was pretty much ignoring it. CNN Turkey was airing a penguin parade and cooking shows. Sitting on his sofa on Sunday afternoon on the upper west side of Manhattan, Turkish-born Murat Aktihanoglu, who is well known to the New York tech community as the organizer of Entrepreneurs Roundtable and ER Accelerator, managed to find some coverage of the protests on a grassroots television station.
“I saw an old couple holding hands and protesting together. I saw two women, banging on pots and pans to make noise as the young people were being attacked with water cannons and gas. I decided that something had to be done,” said Aktihanoglu, shaking his head. “I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing.”
So he did what any self-respecting techie would do: he turned to twitter to crowdsource advice and with friends and fellow Turkish ex-pats, Oltac Unsal, an angel investor and adviser to the World Bank, and Duygu Atacan, a New York-based user experience and interface designer, they launched an IndieGoGo campaign. It wasn’t long before IndieGoGo co-founder and CEO Slava Rubin called: in a matter of hours, the trio had somehow managed to launch the fastest-growing political funding campaign in the crowdfunding platform’s history. He wanted to know how had they managed it?
“Twitter,” Aktihanoglu informed him. “People wanted to help, and they didn’t know what to do, so we tweeted to our network.”
They turned to friends on Facebook for advice and help in spreading the word, too.
Aktihanaglu is neither an activist or political. “I’m just a regular person,” he said. “Anyone could have done this. People are being hurt. The government is out of control and I thought, ‘If the world is watching, the government will have to get in line and control themselves.”
Which is when they struck upon the idea of taking out a full page ad in either the Washington Post or The New York Times – suggestions which they, again, crowd-sourced. The trio decided on The Times when the paper offered them prime placement in the first section.
“We needed $52k for the ad,” said Aktihanoglu. “We put up the campaign at 3.55 pm on Sunday and kept tweeting and retweeting it. We had our first donation at 4 pm. By 11 am Monday morning, we’d raised $60,000.”
It didn’t stop there. Money is still pouring in – and the trio has captured the attention of the world press, which they’re utilizing to bring an end to the news blackout ,and the suffering of the Turkish people to the world stage.
“I’ve had six hours of sleep since Sunday,” Aktihanoglu informed us when we spoke with him on Wednesday morning.
The New York Times ad, the substance of which was also crowd-sourced and voted upon, will run in the paper’s Friday edition. The winner: ”What’s happening in Turkey.”
With money still pouring in to help – they’ve raised over $100,000 at the time of this writing, with two weeks left in the campaign – the question now is: what should we do with the rest of the money?, a question which they posted on Reddit, and a final decision which will, again, be crowd-sourced.
“We’re open to any suggestions.” Aktihanoglu added.
In an age where governments read their citizens’ emails, and social media posts are also fair game, turnabout is always fair play. Accidental activist or not, if and when you get angry enough to take an issue on line, take heed: in this space, everyone can hear you scream.