t byfield on Fri, 21 Feb 2003 20:57:10 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> alan toner: rome f15

alan sent this to me in a private mail, though it was written for anyone 
and everyone else. forwarded with permission -- and pleasure, of course.


date: Wed, 19 Feb 2003 20:37:10 +0000
from: Alan Toner 


Already at 7.00 in the morning groups wandered the streets of our
district draped in their rainbow flags that proclaimed  their commitment
to peace and opposition 'military humanism' in Iraq. As the morning
progressed it became evident that what had been heralded at the biggest
demonstration in the world against the war would rather be a thronging,
an occupation, an inundation of the city by millions. One did not have
the impression of being at a 'political' event, but rather a strange
sociological experiment, perhaps akin to the mass mourning for Princess
Diana. Thousands of buses and special trains - paid for by the CGIL
trade union - converged on Rome from all over the country and from the
windows of almost every condiminium hung banners and flags. Somewhat
vexed, as ever, by consensus, I decided that the Florence- Hub slogan
"Stop the World - Another War is Possible!"was more appropriate. My
housemate instead opted for the tried and tested appeal to universalism:
"Every day they trample on our rights, let's not let them take our right
to live - Peace!".

Not your usual gang.....

The crowd was peppered with children - including large numbers of boy
and girl scouts!! -, strangely visible for once in a country where the
average age is now over 38, and numerous nuns and priests -
interestingly almost none of them white europeans - responded to the
exhortations of il Papa and hit the streets in their threads. The
communists were there of course,as was the counterculture of the social
centres in ritual black garb, and the Negri-ite Dissobedienti, Rete
Lilliputians, Greens, trade unionists of almost every hue. Clusters of
stray American citizens pronounced their opposition to the Caligula's
USA in speech, placards and banners. The other political gangs such as
the Democratici della Sinistra (in government until 2001) also had a
significant presence. But most of all there were enormous numbers of
heterogeneous freelancers, 'normal people', with their handmade signs,
determined to show their opposition to Berlusconi and his sycophantic
prostration before Bush.

Strange Things

Curious bedfellows abounded. At one point in the demonstration a large
red and black banner bearing a slogan in favour of drug
decriminalisation advanced in step with the standard of the local
administration of Spoletto in Tuscany - anarchists and municipalists
together at last! Nearby, just off the Piazza del Cinquecento a group
with a pink banner anxiously pressed leaflets into the hands of
passersby. Big deal? A cursory examination revealed them as none other
than the Raelian Movement, masters of human cloning hoaxes and
specialist in the creation of media surplus value.... Elsewhere I read
that they had in fact also been present in Florence, but the lesson I
drew was that something has snapped in the air, in long neglected
corners of the human mind, and its resurrection attracts every band of
monstrous philosophers extant.

Just around the corner another spectacle was in course: the Campo
Anti-Imperialista, a marxist-leninist group of the old stripe and
surprisingly young adherents, marched with quasi-military step wielding
a massive banner that stated:

                         God Smash America!

(Hard on atheism!) My arrival was perfectly timed as the announced that
they would now present the national colours of Iraq!  What a thrill!
Each of their perfectly presented militants - impeccably presented with
yellow construction hat and equipped with a sort of wooden club - be
prepared! - held an emergency flare and their precise choreography
achieved the desired affect to the delight of photographers present,
some of who approached these hardened revolutionaries to take their
portraits. Cheekbones remained taut in defiance as the semiotic gift was
conveyed to the media - good work, comrades!

Whilst such oddballs had no numerical significance they contributed
mightily, if unwittingly,  to the Barnum circus quality of the day.


Our friends from Forte Prenestino arrived shortly thereafter to return
some carnivalesque defiance to the day, mostly thanks to the hordes of
youthful ravers mustered behind their truck-platform. By the time that
we reached Santa Maria Maggiore - almost a mile from the designated
destination of San Giovannni in Laterano - the crowd was backed up so
far that further advance was impossible. Weary bums rested on the curb,
beer bottle-tops popped open, spliffs ignited and torsos heaved to the
audio fugue. Others busied themselves with the completion of the city's
most recent coat of grafitti.

At San G. Heidi Giuliani was reading a message from Marcos greeting
'rebel Italy' and remembering her dead son, Carlo. This demonstration
was not Genoa x 10 but there is a thread that connects them deeply in so
far as what happened in those days of 2001 has conditioned the
opposition movement ever since. One need only consider the fact that the
Feb 15 demo was launched by the European Social Forum in Florence,
locked in the Italian imagination to Agnoletto's earlier Genoa Social

Some rancor in the 'hood

Back in the neighbourhood the mechanic and sculptor who lives downstairs
confronted me on my return: why did we have these things hanging from
our windows, who did we think we were demonstrating against etc. Despite
my exhaustion I braced myself for one last outburst, but it took only
the mention of our beloved Prime Minister's name, 'Berlusconi', for him
to tun on his heels and walk off leaving me in mid-sentence! Pissed off
perhaps? My point is that despite the jamboree quality and the
superficial consensus of last weekend, there are still plenty of people
supportive of the murderous political class or at least acquiescent or
apathetic to their schemes.

Troubling thoughts.

What struck me politically was the inability of the radical edges to act
significantly within the context of these mass mobilizations, similar to
our experience in Florence. The political parties and historical
civil-society actors are searching to grasp once again the collective
desire to exert control over the social and political environment, to
recuperate it, and the World Social Forum is just one example of the
models they are using to successfully achieve this. Challenges on this
scale put into perspective the sniping between different radical
factions and pose once again the problems of representation. How can
practices of self-organisation, democracy and direct action proliferate?

Anyhow, enough. In many ways I'd rather have been in Dublin - having
never seen 100,000 demonstrate in my hometown - or in NYC - where
moments of collective action are more special for their rarity and
anti-war sentiment has a different reasonance in the shadow of September

Not a bad day, a strange day but not a bad one. The vast nature of the
'demonstration' will have an effect on Don Berlusconi - if only for its
value as focus group - but Italy ultimately is only the bit player in
this bad movie. Caligula has abandoned Rome and now sits in Washington
DC, directing this grotesque performance.

Nonetheless, the rainbow flags still fly and a million discussions of
the war have already begun,  many of them amongst those accustomed to
ignoring world events. This is a gap through which other ideas can flow.
For radical groups and individuals - often  resigned to impotence and
isolation - it's time to remember that opening up to the social world is
not only healthy and fun, but also subversive. Thus rather than
complaining about the crowd's lack of radicality, it is certainly a time
for the dirtying of hands

Neither their war nor their peace.

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