Early in the morning a sharp signal resound in Marghera to call the workers to the factories. When it sounds we are also on our way to “our factory”, Rivolta, where the last preparations are going to be made and departure for the border is to take place. It is the opening day of the European Social Forum (Esf) in Firenze, but we will be going the other direction. The Italian government has shut down the borders and put the Schengen agreement – normally used to keep immigrants out – on hold; too keep presumptive terrorists on their way to the Esf equally out.
Disobbedienti have decided to make an action in favor of open borders and free movement of people. Why should capital, drugs and weapons be allowed to move freely but not people, ask Luca Casarini rhetorically in a telephone interview with an Italian journalist just before we get to Rivolta.
It’s written C.S.O Rivolta with big letters on the wall to something that look as an industrial complex interspersed in an industrial area. Centro Sociale Occupato, an occupied social center, the name of this one is Rivolta. Outside the main door there is a very neat sign that indicates which bell to ring, Rivolta. Sherwood, Ya Basta.
As if it was a usual office building – instead it is an unusual but important pulse in the veins of the social movements. Here you have a building with a computer room, a radio station, meeting rooms and open spaces to have art exhibitions and photo exhibitions. Beside you have a restaurant where they serve fantastic food, a bar and next to that a concert hall for 4000 persons.
At the other side of the court yard there are small houses – similar to the cottages you would find at a Swedish camping situated beside a lake and not in an industrial area. The houses are sometimes used for homeless people. Momo that works with it tells me that it is a project with the municipality.
They go out in the evening and give homeless something hot to drink, they look after that everything is working, if they see someone that is in urgent need she or he can sleep at Rivolta. I see people getting in and out of the building into the far end of the yard. Franco takes us there and we enter the space where illegal immigrants live, 40 persons from Russia, Moldavia, ex. Yugoslavia etc. 40 precarious workers, the precariat, that if they complain not only have to go but also leave the country. But, I’m told, if the police stop them they show a card that says C.S.O Rivolta and they are not bothered.
There are more than 150 centers like this one all over Italy. It was in the middle of the 80s when occupation started, and there were wars around one of the oldest and most well known centers, Leoncavallo in Milano. After that the occupation and creation of social centers took off.
Disobbediente were born in the aftermath of Genova. The part within disobbediente that are rooted in the social centers also have roots from the operaism, from Radio Sherwood, Empire, zapatism and Tute Bianche that went to Genova and became disobbediente. Genova was a hard experience, hard repression, and hard environment. But something good was born out of it.
A broad movement of social disobedience, a radical movement that doesn’t automarginalise. You can be radical and majoritarian, that has not always been the case Pino tells me. Today disobbedienti have people elected in municipalities, regions and even in the national parliament and they have a good relationship with persons in the Green party and Rifundazione Communista, Giovanni Communisti are part of disobbedienti. The link between extra-parliamentarian and parliamentarian work is made. Members of the national parliament will be present at the border.
In the morning around 80 activists goes to Gorizia which is on the border with Slovenia. They climb the mountains and reach a small border station. An occupation is made in front of some few very surprised border policemen. Disobbedienti also, symbolically, cut some fences at the border – in favor of the open borders. They make a press conference inside the occupied border station and then they leave.
For some reason neither the police nor the military have managed to localize them. Disobbedienti have disappeared before the military arrives. In the afternoon there is an action right next to the border station in the center of Gorizia. Around 300 people have gathered, there is music – party ambience in the cold and a huge amount of journalists. They all surround Luca, he gives statement after statement, and interview after interview and then he leaves them got to the music car and gives an improvised speech. Speeches of which he will give many the coming days at the Esf, but always different from one another, always trying to say something new.
It is easy to get impressed. A friend of mine, a Swedish communist, from appearance not at all the disobeying kind of guy tells me that the action they did in Genova was for him probably the best political experience ever. He tells me about how preparations were made days before, how there was a 24-hour discussion and preparation at the Carlini stadium.
The action was to penetrate the red zone, the zone which the government had decided were not for citizens but for 8 presidents and Primeministers. He tells me with excited voice that everything was discussed and voted, everything was open. When they actually did the action with 15 000 people, nothing “out of program” occurred. Even when the police attacked violently with water canons, teargas and extreme violence not one single window was smashed on the street where the disobbediente went forward. The key words in my friend’s story are democracy, transparency and respect.
In front of 5000 people at a conference at the Esf Luca speaks about democracy, transparency and respect, about disobeying with ethics. But, he stresses; to disobey is essential and indespensible.
It makes me think of Jean-Jaques Rosseau, an early theorist on participatory democracy. I’m not sure my friend Luca would appreciate that but the parallels are there for me. For Rosseau the educational process of democracy was crucial, it made the citizen, whose duty was to participate in society, engaged and more able to take decisions.
Disobbedientis fight against laws made by the criminal Berlusconi and others in the Italian government make me remember a quote from the Social Contract: Sovereignty cannot be be represented… the people´s deputies are not, and could not be, it´s representatives; they are merely its agents; and they cannot decide anything finally.
Any law which the people has not ratified in person is void; it is not a law at all. Today we are facing many laws made a strange global constitution and never ever ratified by the people. Maybe are we all doomed to disobey when governments does not express the common will, when the represents are perceptibly neither representing nor being representative and the current dominant model of democracy is facing legitimacy problems.
When Sunday arrives and Firenze´s dear David and the Dome are still standing the Esf is also from official side proclaimed a success. Members of parliament and ministers are all very happy that “nothing happened” – “everybody won” they say. First the establishment scares the shit out of people – especially the ones living in Firenze. Then they go on being skeptical until it’s impossible to hold on to the story of coming violence and mass destruction.
Conclusion: nothing happened in Firenze. It was only 60 000 delegates, 4 times more than expected, it was merely hundreds of interesting seminars on how to combat and create alternatives to neoliberal globalization and it was no more than one million people marching against war – against the permanent global war striking against the citizens of the world.
As nothing happened in Firenze the establishment took the opportunity to say polite things. Prodi, president of the European Commission, said: we have to listen to these youngsters. Similar reactions came from other prominent elected politicians. One comment often expressed from them was the very insightful “Everybody won”. As if the struggle of the movement if just a question of form – how we protest.
Obviously they had never even tried to understand the most basic issue in the fights of the movement – the conflict perspective. If we win you loose. Journalists kept asking why nothing happened.
But if nothing happened in Firenze, less than one week after the end of the Esf something did happen. Italian police arrested 20 persons from disobbedienti, including Franceso Caruso, in the south of Italy. In the middle of the night between the 14th and 15th of November masked policemen went to the houses of activists and their families, to the university of Cosenza, Centro Sociale Filo Rosso and other places to search, confiscate, destroy and arrest.
20 people are deprived of their freedom while there are criminals in the government, a corrupt justice, dishonest politicians and striking repression. Once Luca compared Italy with Argentina, the level of corruption and repression. The 20 Italians are being held, some of them in top security jails, usually reserved for murderers and Mafiosi. The charges include “Subversive association and political conspiracy in order to disrupt government functions; subversive propaganda; and violent subversion of the state”.
In the afternoon in Gorizia, at the action for open borders I am speaking with Nicola. He is an artist that makes masks for the famous Venetian carnival – and a disobbediente of course. In the end of the year he will go to Chiapas for Ya Basta to work on a water project. We speak about Latinamerica, about the action we are doing, about the cold weather and the horrible fear of police repression.
I’m a person just like them, he tells me and nods at the police and military standing at the other side of the street, but they don’t see me as a human being, they see me as someone that is dangerous. Latinamerica comes back to the conversation. He tells me about a film that he saw that moved him very much. A film about Argentina, about repression against students – a film about the night of the pencils, when students disappeared and were killed (see commentary July). What they did is what we are doing now and what happened to them could happened to us. History and present, continents and countries are weaved together. What happened to them could happen to us.
For more information about the imprisoned www.sherwood.it Please do send support letters to the imprisoned and their movements and protest letters to the Italian embassies and government.