Occupy Rome 15 October 2011

A summary of yesterday’s events would be useless, as I’m pretty sure by now you’ve all read the big headlines about riots and clashes with the police at the “Occupy Rome” demonstration. If you haven’t, a good starting point is this video (in Italian). For some info in English, check Al Jazeera’s reports.  (Neither reports are completely unbiased, don’t ask too much…).

Just like on December 14 2010, the protests got “violent”. The huge issue on which the Italian movements seem to be particularly stuck on, especially since the G8 in Genoa, is the eternal debate “Violence vs Non-violence”. I’m not going to go deep into this here cos it’s not the right place. For now, I’ve just translated a couple of articles and comments that I pretty much agree with. Talk  again soon.

As we write the helicopters still hover above us in the sky and the smoke from the barricades can be seen rising through the buildings of the city centre. Rome is burning! The day of the indignados isn’t finished yet, revolts are still carrying on throughout the city. In the meantime, the political elite – which didn’t get the confidence vote of the enraged Roman people – is busy criminalising a whole day of extraordinary struggle, helped in this by the media, always willing to give them space.

Once again, we hear the same old story of the Black Bloc, which has become the straw-man method of dismissing the social conflict that, over the last few months, has filled up Italian squares, streets, valleys and universities, gaining strength and consensus. What are you chattin’ about, Black Bloc! In Piazza San Giovanni the people resisting the mad and lethal charges and carousels of the police were part of the Italian “indignation”, part of that global movement that in our peninsula chooses to express itself in this way too, uniting different generations of students, precarious and other workers in a common struggle against the crisis and the debt. In addition to protest camps, this movement refuses to allow its march to be blocked by the Ministry and claims the freedom to express dissent, targeting the palaces symbols of the crisis and of politics. There is no contrast between the acampadas and the physical fightback of Piazza San Giovanni, they’re both expressions of the same movement!

As we know, in Tunisia or Egypt, where it all started, the local regimes only gave up to the strength of the movement after shedding blood and repressing the revolts until the last minute, when Tahrir Square and Tunis’ Casbah became exceptional places of struggle, outrage, rage and construction of alternatives – the real ones, outside and against the palaces of politics. But maybe this is part of the problem: in Italy today’s demonstration has been a toy in the hands of the old and tired political establishment, which represents  old struggles and defeats. By pretending not to hear what the movement has been shouting for years – “Nobody represents us” – and playing crazy games, they guaranteed themselves a place in the demonstration (but at what price?). The PD’s Secretary (left-wing coalition) is, even in these hours, speaking for the demonstrators of Rome, even though the day of October 15 has been launched all around the world precisely as a struggle against that type of politics that his Party represents.

It’s still too early to process the many images that this huge day of struggle has given us: one among many, Piazza San Giovanni packed with protesters unwilling to give the square away and clashing for hours with the police, who didn’t hesitate to run them over with their vans. A massive picture, that the chit chat of politicians and the mantras of the Black Bloc will not distort or modify in the eyes of the young working class and the classes most hit by the crisis. Sure, opposition and  social conflict need to be nurtured, but we must avoid repetitiveness of romantic battles such as these.

From today, when the elite of political parties and banks will look down  on us they won’t see anyone, because, since December 14 2010 and today, people have now started looking our opponents squarely in the eyes…

Translation of an analysis by InfoAut, original here.

Let’s face it, if there was a country who could turn the “indignation” into mass outrage, that was precisely Italy, which lives a pretty painful present.

Today, in Piazza San Giovanni in particular, has turned into hours of mass resistance against the police forces, called to push away a legitimate outrage against a present of austerity. Maybe not everyone can understand it, but today’s hours of Roman resistance have stated clearly that rebellion against debt, sacrifices, elites and austerity is possible, and can unite.

Extract from another analysis published by InfoAut.

There’s an ongoing discussion on the Wu Ming’s blog which is also very interesting (in Italian). Here are some of the comments:

To uproot a belief you need to start realising that many people have bi-conceptual brains, where there is space for a concept and its contrary. Many people that today got caught in the “violence vs non-violence” net are the same who applauded the revolts of Tunis and Tahrir Square, without considering the violent or non-violent behaviour of the protesters. Maybe if we worked on this contradiction some of those people might change their mind.

Nevertheless, it’s sad that the political significance of a demonstration against the European Central Bank’s dictates – which brought to the streets hundreds of thousands of people – be reduced to the evaluation on “who started it” between “the mob” and the “forces of law and order”.   (Wu Ming 2)

We thought what happened today was inevitable, because of Italy’s choices on how to be part of the global “15th October”: the Big National March, instead of being everywhere (“Occupy Everything”), which is what other movements practice around the world and have done today. “962 cities in 85 countries” means an average of 11 cities in each country, while here we have chosen to meet up in one place, the usual one, with all its implications. It’s a conclusion we have reached several times before, boring ourselves and others. Before the “#15Oct” there was a “14Dec”, and before that the G8, and so on…

Today we don’t feel like repeating those criticisms, because, when there are people risking their lives on the streets, solidarity is the priority. Saying “I told you so” is reactionary and mean. “Telling” is useless if it’s unconvincing. Today we can only express solidarity to those who were repressed, and to those who suffered the situation. Even in the tweets that keep getting posted up here there is too much desire to blame some people only, to judge who’s in and who’s out, to blame everything on the agent provocateurs, real, fake or bracketed. It’s not our thing, sorry. It’s a matter of decency, and respect for those people who were on those streets today, Piazza San Giovanni etc…(Wu Ming 1).

Source of these comments here.

Translated by Italy Calling

9 responses to “Occupy Rome 15 October 2011

  1. Social struggle can break the law without being violent. I think this should be the rule when we want to protest against a system that does not understand our woes. You can occupy a public place without authorisation, but then you have to expect to pay the consequences by being arrested. That is how unity and persistent fight for what we believe is right make us stronger. Violence calls violence. That may also happen. This could explain what happened in Egypt and Tunisia. Police were violent and protesters reacted violently. Yet, in Rome, some “protesters” wanted to invert the roles.

    • It all depends on how you define “violence”. Poverty, exploitation, nepotism, sexism, and so on…these are all diseases of today’s Italy and to me they are all manifestations of violence. I do understand how burning a car can be seen as ugly, but surely it’s not “violent”? While beating people up with batons and running them over with your vans, that is. I’m not necessarily advocating violence at all costs, but it is often inevitable, and if it brings radical political change, then it is unfortunately a cycle we have to go through. I wish there was a peaceful way of making change, but I don’t believe there is. I was one of the many Italian people who put up “PACE” flags on their balconies and went to the Peace March in Assisi. Doesn’t look the Italian government ever gave a toss about our peaceful protests. Unfortunately, in this very fucked up world we live in I believe you have to SHOUT to be heard, cos if you whisper you just disappear. Thanks for your comment, very much appreciated.

  2. I don’t buy this Marxist story at all. First, I strongly believe the protest was hijacked by the police: that is visible in all the footage of the riots, 12 people were arrested in total, and it is -as you point out- the exact copy of what happened in December last year. But supposing that’s not the case: we are talking about 500 people(maybe) versus 200000. What gives those 500 the right to interfere with a widely advertised peaceful protest to play anarchism for a few hours? What kind of contribution is that meant to be, apart from leading to a build up in police repression? Did we learn anything from the 70s? The last think we should do is to praise these imbecils who throw stones and run away – we’ll talk to them when they’ll have the courage to show us their faces. That is, never.

    • Well, I’m not sure Italy has learned anything from the 70s, cos if we had, we wouldn’t be in the state we’re now, but that’s my opinion…
      I don’t believe there are “good protesters” and “bad protesters”, and I agree 100% with the comment made by Wu Ming 1 on people having “bi-conceptual brains”. Damage to property and confrontation with the police, etc…they’re all just tactics, and to me they have the same importance as other non-violent tactics, like marches or whatever…there’s a moment for everything. I do believe, like you say, that a lot of the damage on October 15 was actually caused by the police or by some fash paid by them, and the footage shows it clearly. But I also believe there was a lot of people there who were/are really pissed off, and are not satisfied by marches anymore. In my eyes, they have exactly the same right to be there as non-violent protesters, and do what they want to do. The only thing I wish we could better is agree beforehand and talk more, between groups within the movement, about what each one is prepared to do and how to organise things better, because that is what leads to misunderstandings and total mess. Finally, I’m not sure what you’re referring to when you talk about a “Marxist story”…but it does make me smile if you think my blog has a Marxist inclination…;-) Respect.

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  4. Hi there,
    you summarize what the problem is when you say that the violent protesters have the right to do what they want but should be able to talk and prepare better: that is exactly what being violent is – not liking discussion too much! When I said “Marxist” I was referring to the tone of Wu Ming’s comment, but that probably was an overstatement of mine anyway.. I’m all in favour of revolutions, but I just think that what happened Saturday in Rome was not what the media make it look like at all – it was the classic example of sabotage for reasons of propaganda.

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