BARI, Italy — 6 p.m. in the traffic-packed Italian city streets, all lit up in the fervent wait for Christmas. I’m sitting on the bus, the computer on my lap and earphones plugged in tight enough to cover the sound of two old ladies loudly arguing over whether cucumbers have gotten cheaper than radishes. As the bus proceeds towards the central station I distractedly glance at some stores that flash by, looking for the incipit to an article on the recent Forconi protest. It’s hard not to notice some of the cracks on the shopping windows, along with flyers and other signs on the walls that recite intimidatingly: “your shop closes tomorrow, or else.” This is the footprint left by the Forconi, the protest movement that at the end of 2013 has targeted particularly small businesses and railroad transportation, leaving shop owners at a crossroads: join the protest or live in fear.
My job, as I sit on the bus, is to give voice to those flyers and those signs, to tell their stories and by doing so convey the struggle of the protesters, of the shop owners, of a country. I’m not a professional journalist, I’m just a student with limited writing experience, but the task I’ve set myself is one that often not even professional journalists manage to accomplish: remain impartial in the face of the issue and not let my personal views interfere with the analysis of the events. It sounded so easy when I decided to write an article. Now that the computer screen is hungrily staring at me, however, I realize how much harder it is.
My first instinct, when reading about the protests, was to form my own opinion based on what life has taught me. It taught me that protests must be acknowledged as long as they are peaceful. I can still hear the echo of all those who told me that dialogue should be the first means of communication and attempt at solution, that violence turns even those who are right to the wrong side. And, on top of everything, I do have a political inclination, which leads me to approach every issue in a liberal, and consequently nonviolent, way.
So when in December—sitting in my Harvard dorm room, already dreaming of Christmas and of the twelve-hour-long flight that separated me from home—I found out about the Forconi, I did form a personal opinion. The articles I read and the videos I saw described the series of protests by this semi-political movement, which aimed at a social revolution to create a new government and a new social state. And, as analyzed in the article that would come out of that bus with me, a social revolution by its proper definition implies violence, and that is where the main issue lies. It is the escalation into violence that caused my reaction of disapproval and condemnation.
I distanced myself soon from what only a rather small portion of the population was doing, and to all those who asked me what I thought about those events, I referred to the protesters as “they.” It was a protest led by a group of Italians, not by the Italians. And, to be fair, it was an even smaller portion of those protesters that were responsible for the violence. They certainly didn’t represent the Italians. I am Italian, my friends and family are, and we were not “them”. We were neither the organizers of the protest, nor the target of it. We were those who simply bore the costs of the protests. We were the shopping windows.
So far, I have been careful to restrict my critical opinion to the events and in particular to the violent occurrences. Never have I ascribed any of the criticism to the whole Forconi movement, at least in its ideals. After all, I don’t disagree with everything they protested against. Ideals advocating for a new political perspective, closer to the individuals than to the market austerity, fewer taxes on people’s work, and more income equality are worth supporting, in my opinion. Moreover, during my phone interview with Mariano Ferro, national leader of the Forconi movement, I found myself agreeing with some of the statements he made. I even sympathized with him at points, when he sounded humble and genuine, stating, “All we want is to find solutions to the crisis, nothing more, because exaggerated taxation suffocates the economy.”
And even if I didn’t agree with any of these goals, as long as they are expressed in a non-violent way they should and must be heard and respected. I myself had participated in several protests as a high school student and worked hard at promoting a good organization of demonstrations to avoid clashes with other groups or with the police. If I think about it, some of the goals of our protesting were in fact similar to those of the Forconi. And this might even be one of the reasons behind my sharp disapproval: through violence, the Forconi movement took some of the ideals that were mine and shared by many students, and used them as motivation for their violent acts. In the media’s opinion, now, these ideals are associated with violence. They have been deprived of meaning and in a way it feels like they have been stolen from us.
In my previous article, I predicted that the movement would fail as a simple consequence of Italy’s structural strength, which will allow the state to be immune from a proper social revolution at least for a while. And today, after a few months, the Forconi movement is mainly just a memory. Who knows. Maybe in the future, even relatively soon, it might experience new peaks; but a social revolution will simply not be achieved.
Image credit: RT, pixabay