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Friday, October 14, 2011

The Indignant Ones: Rome joins the Wall Street Protests

It was Thursday, October 13.  We had parked the scooter on the Quirinale hill and walked a couple of blocks to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, one of Rome's great museums and the site of a major exhibition of Soviet art.  But when we came down the long stairs toward Via Nazionale, two large blue-and-white police vans, staffed by a dozen officers, signified something afoot, and when we turned the corner onto Via Nazionale, we found the steps of the museum crowded with tents and dozens of young people, talking and making banners--maybe planning a revolution.  The museum was closed, for "security reasons," and not scheduled to reopen until Sunday. 

We had stumbled upon the protests of the "indignati"--the indignant ones--modeled after the "indignados" of Madrid and, in the United States, the Wall Street protesters.  Here in Rome, their target was the Bankitalia (the Bank of Italy), located just down the street from the museum.  Apparently the first tents were in front of the Bank, spilling into the street and seriously disrupting the traffic--and the bus routes--on one of the city's busiest thoroughfares.  A "braccio di ferro" with the police--literally "arm of iron" but translatable as a "trial of strength"--moved the tents off the street and onto the steps of the museum.

"Gli indignati" also call themselves the "Dragi rebelli"--Dragi rebels.  Dragi refers to Mario Dragi, departing president of the Bank of Italy and the next head of the European central bank.  Conveniently, Dragi also means "dragons," so the Rome movement has a convenient symbol--the dragon.  Dragi is an advocate of immediate and severe budget cuts, beyond those generally suggested.  Like right-wingers in the United States, he claims these actions will restore growth and benefit Italy's legions of young unemployed.  But the "indignati" aren't buying Dragi's line or his stature as head of Italy's biggest bank.  They jokingly refer to Bankitalia as "Banca d'Itaglia" (pronounced similarly, but meaning "Bank of the Cuts").  In the lingo of the rebels, another large bank, Banca Intesa, becomes Banca Intrusa (intrusive) and Unicredit becomes Unidebit--not too hard to figure out, even if you don't know Italian.  Thus far it's been a good-humored movement: lots of singing and dancing. 

On the steps at the University of Rome (La
Sapienza): Continue the encampment in Via Nazionale
after the forced removal of last night!  Today at
4 p.m. everyone to Via Nazionale.  The protest
continues.  October 15 has already begun!  Rise Up.
Although centered on the young, the movement is diverse; it includes environmentalists, university research assistants, various youth associations, some union people, many undergraduates, and thousands of people brought together spontaneously through Facebook and Twitter.  They oppose the privatization of the water systems; defend the public schools and the universities from budget cuts; and want the banks--and not citizens--held responsible if the state fails to make its payments.  They oppose Dragi's austerity measures.  They know the Berlusconi government is troubled and fragile, and they hope their mobilization will prove powerful enough to bring it down. 

Another part of the movement, seemingly separate but contributing to the state's anxieties about public order, is an anti-government group centered around Gaetano Ferrieri, a 54 year old Venetian who has been fasting for 131 days (and lost 20 kilos).  Ferrieri has presented the government with 3 petitions, calling for the elimination of government waste and bureaucracy (and excessive stipends for managers) and for reform of the Italian election laws.  But so far he's been ignored by the authorities.

Seen at Montecitorio, the Italian "house." 
I love Italy.  I am with Gaetano Ferrieri. 
Like the Dragi Rebelli, Ferrieri's legions have taken to the streets, blocking traffic on Via del Corso while singing "Fratelli d'Italia."  Although Ferrieri's hunger strike began long before protests on Wall Street set things moving worldwide, Gaetano shares the basic concerns of the Dragi rebels.  "I giovani oggi," he says, "non hanno futuro, non hanno prospettive.  Non siamo rassegnati, siamo indignati."  Today's youth have no future, no prospects.  We are not resigned, we are indignant.

Saturday, October 15 is a big day for the movement.  A poster for the event employs the slogan, "Yes we camp"--in English--a combination of  the Palazzo tents and "yes we can."  The rebels hope to have 150,000 people in the streets--in "piazza" as they say--culminating at Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano.   But they also insist that the movement will go on, that the occupation will continue.  "Portate una tenda," they say: bring a tent. 


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