Rome, November 4
The Agora 99 has finished yesterday afternoon with a General Assembly. Today it’s time for a brief analysis.
First, the name ‘Agora 99’ as a reference to the meme of ‘we are the 99%’ is ridiculous. This was an encounter of a small and often self-referent revolutionary elite which had nothing to do with the 99% of the population.
In the opening assembly on Friday there was some talk about the necessity to create a new terminology. It echoed Slavoj Žižek’s message to the occupiers in Wall Street: “What one should always bear in mind is that any debate here and now necessarily remains a debate on the enemy’s turf; time is needed to deploy the new content.”
In reality, a lot of the terminology used during the workshops was either purely academic, or intentionally vague, or completely meaningless. The most popular terms of the weekend were ‘transnational’, ‘metropolitan context’, ‘technopolitics’ and ‘constituent process’.
What it all means in practice is not really clear. Many people had the sensation that we have been reinventing the same wheel we had already reinvented in Madrid last year.
Another issue was about geographic space. Officially, Agora 99 was a ‘European’ meeting about debt, rights and democracy. It caused a discussion about what ‘Europe’ exactly means and why this meeting should or shouldn’t extend its reach beyond the old continent, given the fact that ‘resistance, like capital, is global’.
One result of the Agora was an agenda for upcoming encounters online or in the square, none of them ambitious. The best that could come out of that would be some stand alone action, somewhere, on some topic. No serious efforts have been made to get the Joneses involved. On the contrary, within this so-called ‘99 percent movement’ you often sense a paradoxic adversity towards everything ‘main stream’. Yet the only way to make a real difference is to tap into the main stream on as many different levels as possible, and get people to become politically active themselves.
On the positive side, the Agora has served to consolidate and expand the existing network of international activists. Many participants already knew each other from the web, and this last weekend has been an occasion for them to meet face to face. And admittedly, it’s not fair to expect great things from an encounter like this. Nobody can foresee or plan an uprising. What you can do, however, is prepare a framework of international collaboration, to help spread an uprising whenever it occurs. That is what Agora 99 – and the continuous online activism throughout the year – is all about.
Also, the setting for the Agora was awesome. From an occupied theatre in Rome’s San Lorenzo district to an enormous occupied maintenance yard of the Italian railways. It was hard core industrial romance.
Most of the workshops were held in the large sheds of the railway depot on Saturday. They were fifteen in total, divided in three time slots on five locations. Despite many workshops being tedious, pedantic and unproductive they were usually very well attended until the end. The only people who tried a less theoretic approach were the Greeks. Their presentation about the occupied Embros theater in Athens was charged with emotion. It ended in song and dance.
Afterwards, the dancing would continue on a large scale when one of the sheds was filled with swinging 1960s surfing music. As if to illustrate a point that I have been making for a long time, and which I will continue to repeat.
“The revolution is rock ‘n’ roll.”
Rome, November 2
Whenever I am in The Hague I take a stroll past our parliament to look at the ‘State of the Constitution’. In the little square next to the entrance, the first article is sculpted in stone on the basis of a long bench. It has been there for twenty years, it was meant to remain for the ages, but every time I pass by, I notice that the text is fading. Already, the word ‘Constitution’ is illegible.
It leaves me concerned and wondering. Am I the only one who notices this? Can the people still see what remains of the text? Don’t they get the irony? Don’t they remember old Thorbecke’s prophecy?
They probably don’t. It’s an old story, like the famous myth of the crows and the Tower of London. Whenever the crows leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall. Likewise, our great liberal statesman Thorbecke, father of Holland’s modern democracy, reportedly foretold on his deathbed that the constitution would one day be captured in stone. And that if ever the text would fade, Holland would descend into chaos and ultimately be swept away by the sea.
Now the text is fading. It says: “All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.”
While I was determining our Constitution’s irreversible decay, white people painted black were demonstrating on the Malieveld in defence of Black Pete, Santa’s Little Helper. It was an embarrassing spectacle and fortunately only few people were there. On the whole, it was an even bigger flop than Troelstra’s mythical attempt at socialist revolution in 1918.
A week later. This time I’m in Rome, fully backpacked. When I approach parliament, I notice riot police in full gear blocking the street, and I immediately feel at home. What happened? It was a ‘Siege on Parliament’ by the movement for affordable homes. The parliament square was packed, and notably there was a large participation by blacks and latinos. I start to check what happened, and this is the story.
Around one o’ clock, police vans blocked a demo heading towards parliament. A warning was issued to vacate the area. When it went unanswered, pepperspray was employed and a charge ensued. Now, the curious thing is that the warning, the charge, and the pepperspray didn’t come from police. They came from the protesters. People with clubs wearing Guy Fawkes masks climbed on the police vehicles to smash them up while covering the cops with pepperspray. It was an epic moment. Pepperspray is an excellent offensive measure. It hurts like hell for hours.
Police responded with tear gas and a counter charge. Nine people were arrested. For the rest of the day, people blocked parliament and created traffic chaos all around until those who had been detained were released.
It was fun, but it’s not why I’m here. I’m in Rome for the Agora 99, international meeting on debt, rights and democracy. It’s the second edition after last year’s meeting in Madrid. Yesterday was the official opening. The people from the Roman social centres did an great job organising working spaces, accommodation and food. The workshops are held by participants themselves.
Aside from the locals, there are over a hundred people here from all over Europe, in particular Spain, Britain, Germany and Greece. Some of them I remember from the previous edition and other occasions. And I must say I have the same feeling that I had last year. The energy is right. This meeting is another excellent occasion for the exchange of experiences and the preparation of future actions. The Agora is already a success. The workshops are of secondary importance.
As you might know, I don’t have the patience to sit through workshops and assemblies, simply because I can’t stand bullshit. This is not to say they aren’t interesting. It’s just that it’s very hard to engage listeners with the spoken word, and only very few people are capable of doing so. Most others suffer from ‘verbal obesity’. Some of them try to show off with a grand academic analysis of Occupy and related movements by stacking one complicated concept onto another. It takes about five minutes for the audience to get restless. Some people start to leave. some people fall asleep, most people put on a serious face out of politeness, and only a small minority actually listens.
In my personal opinion, attempts at profound analysis are best left for print. If you want people to listen, don’t speak to the mind. Speak to the soul.
Today is the big day featuring most of the workshops. Tomorrow there will be a General Assembly in conclusion of the Agora. In the meantime, I move through the corridors, which is always where the most interesting and productive encounters take place.
April 20, 2122 hrs
It’s going down, right now, in Rome.
Seven years ago, the Berlusconi party cried wolf when Giorgio Napolitano was elected president without Berlusconi’s consent. I still remember the headline of his personal newspaper. “As from today, the hammer and the sickle are flying over the presidential palace”, in reference to Napolitano once having been a member of the Italian Communist Party.
Now, Berlusconi has been one of the architects of Napolitano’s re-election, together with Mario Monti and left wing leader Bersani. They hadn’t been able to convince their backbenchers to agree on two other candidates who would guarantee the status quo – and impunity for Berlusconi – so they settled on the 88-year old incumbent president, simply because he hasn’t made trouble for anyone during his first mandate.
The Italian gerontocrats will do everything to cling on to power, and to prevent change from happening. Because they know that when it happens, they will all be swept away into the gutters of history, like had happened to the previous generation of Andreotti/Craxi over twenty years ago.
The people’s candidate, investigative journalist Milena Gabanelli, proposed by the Five Star Movement, had previously declined the honour. So the movement proposed the next on the list, professor Stefano Rodotà, by far the cleanest of all candidates, and as such, the most dangerous for the establishment.
If the left wing party had decided to vote Rodotà, it would have been a clear signal that they were willing to commit to change. But they are not. They prefer to strike deals with a criminal like Berlusconi and a banker like Mario Monti. It leaves the Italian people no option but to rise up and make revolution.
That is what’s happening at this moment. Tens of thousands of people are converging on parliament to demand an end to twenty years of backdoor deals, corruption, impunity and a sell-out of the country to organized crime.
Beppe Grillo is descending on Rome from Friuli and inviting everyone, anywhere, to join him, in order to sweep away the dinosaurs and pave the way for a new Italy.
Of course, he is very well aware of the eery historical comparison that a ‘March on Rome’ evokes… In October 1922, in the midst of the economic and social chaos that followed World War One, Benito Mussolini led his ‘blackshirts’ to the capital, demanding to form a government. The king, afraid more of the communists than of the fascists, consented…
There are hardly any fascists now any more, only the same old class of politicians against a people that is sick and tired of business as usual. So keep an eye on Rome, and if you’re there, join it. Now is the time, finally, to dump these decrepit politicians on the junk yard of history. It’s where they belong.
Watch the livestream:
Rome, January 20
We have all been admitted to a former mental institution in the north of Rome. Fortunately, the gates are open. Since 1978 the use of closed mental hospitals has been abolished in Italy. It turned out that people who were relatively sane went completely nuts in these places. What’s left, here in Rome, is a quiet park with all the typical pine trees and about forty buildings. It would make a great place for a postrevolutionary university.
We are housed in the former lavandry. It has been occupied for seven years by a cultural organisation that offers a wide panorama of initiatives to the local community. Their great wish would be to turn this entire park into a cultural centre. But that’s not going to happen in the short term. Many of the buildings are closed, some are used by the city council and others still have some kind of psychomedical purpose. One of them has been turned into the ‘Museum of the Mind’.
A mental institution is an excellent place to reflect on contemporary Italian politics. And so I did.
I will keep it short, I will stay on the main roads, because Italian politics as a whole is an intricate maze full of shady alleyways, corpses in closets, masonic conspiracies, lost notebooks, screams in the dark and women at their balconies. You can get lost in it and never get out. Neither will I touch on the breakdown of values that was caused by twenty years of berlusconism. All things in due time.
So, in general you have the old left, the old right, and the puddle of parliament in between. The old left is composed of a myriad of communist flavoured parties and unions. The old right is made up of another myriad of fascist flavoured parties and action groups. And parliament is the place where the elected parties divide the pieces of cake among each other.
Lacking a true liberal democratic tradition, Italian politics is centered on strong personalities. Like a kind of universe where the minor characters revolve around the big ones until their suns burn out and everyone rearranges itself around another leader.
Political generations last very long in Italy. In the northern countries the parties are always the same even though their politics converge, but the faces change at least once every decade. In Italy there have only been about three political generations since WW2. De Gasperi/Togliatti, Andreotti/Craxi, and Berlusconi. Over here, the faces never seem to change, even though the parties have lately been reinventing themselves at every election. Even now, on the billboards and in the press I see the same names that have been around since the early 90s. Or maybe longer. They are not worth mentioning, but they seem to last forever.
Italy is an old country, in every sense. Statistically the population is the oldest of the world. It’s being weighed down by its own history, and it seems to advance with its back towards the future. The left is nostalgic of old industrial age ideologies and dreams of a working class paradise, the right is obsessed with ancient aspirations to nationhood and empire, while parliament is in the final act of selling the country to the banks.
The left and the right are both fiercely hostile to the government of Monti, but they hate each other more than they hate the banks. It all goes back to the years of civil war 1943-45, when communist and other partisans fought the loyalist fascists in the context of World War Two. Since then the animosity between fascists and anti-fascists has been passed on from father to son to grandson. But even within the left and the right, there’s often more hatred between the various denominations than between them and ‘the common enemy’, be it the other side or be it the government. All in all, it’s a mad house.
In the midst of all this, the indignados are only a very small and unorganised bunch. But we have one strength. We are something new. We don’t look at the past, because we don’t have any history yet. We have no flags and no idols. We’re citizens. And we’re fed up with the old way of thinking. Communists, socialists, fascists, liberals, conservatives, socialdemocrats. To hell with them all. We want a new paradigm.
Rome, January 18
The Agora Roma officially ended yesterday. There haven’t been any spectacular actions or events in the final two days. Many people have already left, either for home or for other revolutionary fronts.
In the end the experience has been okay. The Vatican action was undoubtedly the main highlight. It came out well, it got the attention of all major Italian newspapers besides from the Washington Post, and the reports on it were pretty objective. Better than we could hope for, given the fact that the church is always a very sensitive subject in Italy.
I had been preparing something spectacular as a conclusion. The idea was to occupy the Forum, in the middle of night. This because our movement claims the public space and the Roman Forum was the public space par excellence in antiquity. Only since a few years you have to pay to enter. The plan was ready in detail. I had identified the weak spot where we could cross. First we would have taken the Palatine, the hill of the emperors, we would have planted a flag on top, saying ‘Free Palatine’, and then we would have descended to the Forum to camp.
The plan was very romantic, but it was finally voted down, because of the possible negative repercussions on the movement and ourselves and the bad precedent it could set. Touching ancient Rome is almost as sensitive as touching the church.
Instead, we prepared an action against Goldman Sachs, which we executed this evening. One of us dressed up in a tent, symbolising a giant squid. Other comrades were attached to his tentacles wearing masks of Mario Monti, Mario Draghi, Papademos and Obama. We had prepared a flyer with information on how the former three all have a past in GS and how the bank of banks was the major contributor to Obama’s campaign.
It went on to explain how Goldman Sachs helped the Greeks to trick their budget, how it gets countries ‘hooked’ to loans they can’t pay back, how it acts as a financial hitman and how it finally places its pawns directly in the nerve centres of power. Not to speak about the speculation with food prices.
And so the squid went for a tourist trip through the centre of Rome, from Piazza Barberini to Termini. One of the slogans was a quote by John Adams, the second president of the United States. ‘There are two ways to conquer a nation. Through war, or through debt.’
Now we’re back at the camp. It’s the last evening here in the square. Tomorrow we move to a location in Rome as yet unknown. The march will probably depart next saturday, January 21.
[Publico aqui los flyers sobre Goldman Sachs en italiano y en castellano. Necesiterían ser trabajados un poco más]
y una foto del grande pulpo:
Rome, January 15
The tourists in Rome don’t get to see a swinging fancy dress party very often. But today, for once, they turned away their camera’s from the landmarks and pointed them at us.
We took the streets with joy. We had a drumband, and we had people dancing all the way from San Giovanni in Laterano to Piazza del Popolo.
This was our carnival. We made fun of the banks and the financial system, and we transmitted energy. Positive energy. We held up traffic, but no-one honked to blame us. On the contrary. Some people got out of their car and started dancing with us.
We were not a big crowd, about two hundred people, mainly the indignados from the acampada, but at least we interrupted business as usual for a day. And it changed the city.
I might not be really fond of contemporary Rome, like I said, but Rome without traffic is absolutely fabulous. We brought it about, and even though our demonstration was technically illegal, the authorities let us have our way. Police were very cooperative and discreet. We were escorted by only a handful of civilian officers. There was always back-up nearby, but never visible.
Only at the colosseum we witnessed an almost surreal scene. A couple of our clowns climbed over the fences to create some chaos among the bewildered tourists. They were already on their way out when a platoon of riot police appeared inside the colosseum, behind bars. As if they expected that we were going to storm the place.
It was hilarious. We had a laugh and danced on to Piazza Venezia. The square is named after the Palazzo Venezia, the former embassy of the Republic of Venice. In 1940, Mussolini appeared on the balcony to announce that war had been declared on England and France. The square was packed and people went crazy with enthusiasm. Today, our indignant pope stepped forward in the middle of the square to unite the characters of Merkel and Sarkozy in holy matrimony. The ring was provided by the European Central Bank. Mario Monti acted as a witness.
After the cerimony we took the Via del Corso. The beat of the drums echoed between the houses. And me, I could discern a little historical echo as well. Because once upon a time, the Roman populace celebrated carnival in grand style. Part of the festivities consisted in a horse race through the Via del Corso. It was famously described by Goethe in his Italian Journey, but over time the tradition was lost. Only now, generations later, the indignados have brought a bit of the spirit of carnival back to Rome.
Near Piazza Colonna, we are blocked by police. This is the red zone near parliament. We don’t make any problems of it. Police have been generous all week. They never made trouble, so we don’t have any reason to do so either. We take another street, and end up in Piazza di Spagna, once again to the enjoyment of the tourists who are sitting on the steps.
The carnival ends a little further up at Piazza del Popolo, where the march had entered the city a week before. We hold a symbolic assembly, then it gets dark and cold, and people go back to San Giovanni for the afterparty. Live jamming in the square.