By Laura Grimaldi. English translation edited by Christine Martinez
Beauty and “The Beast”: Neo-fascism and Resistance Movements in the Digital Age
Pertini: You see, I am faithful to Voltaire’s precept, and it is this … I say to my opponents: “I fight your faith which is contrary to mine, but I am ready to fight up to the price of my own life so that you can always freely express your thoughts.”
Here’s what my position is. I mean, although I am not a believer, I respect the faith of believers. For example, I am a socialist, but I respect the political faith of others: I discuss it, I can argue with them. But they are the owners of their thoughts, which they have to freely express. That is, I am democratic in this sense. Really.
Journalist: Do you also respect the political faith of fascists?
Pertini: No. I fight this with another mind. Fascism, for me, cannot be considered a political faith. It seems absurd what I say, but it is so. Fascism, in my opinion, is the antithesis of political faiths. Fascism is at odds with true political beliefs. We cannot talk about political faith when talking about fascism, because fascism oppressed all those who did not think like it. Those who were not fascists were oppressed. And therefore, no one who oppresses the faiths of others can talk about true political faith. I fight, but I fight on democratic ground.
Extract of an interview with Alessandro Pertini (1896 – 1990), Italian anti-fascist, politician and partisan, 7th President of the Italian Republic.
I remember well when we were children. By that, I mean the generation between the 1980s and 1990s: children of those born after the war and who actively experienced the cultural revolution of the 1970s; grandchildren of those who had seen the ugliness of war with their own eyes.
We were the last custodians of a direct evidence of what hatred was able to do; but also the custodians of the message of hope and change delivered to us by our mothers and fathers, who deeply believed in education, culture and the importance of historical knowledge as the first necessary antibodies of the immune system of democracy.
Apparently, therefore, we have grown up well educated and informed on those terrible pages of our recent history. We did not just learn about the madness of Nazism and Fascism and the horror of the Holocaust in school books: we have watched films, read books, like the Diary of Anne Frank, and authors like Primo Levi; we listened to the testimonies of concentration camp survivors and war widows and to the stories of the partisans; we visited museums and memorials and interviewed our grandparents.
All seemed to work well: I remember when I told myself how lucky I was to be born in Italy of the 1980s; I tried to imagine what my life would have been like, if only I had been born during that war. I often thought that European children like me had the privileges of being informed and educated about all that happened and of being able to democratically talk about it; I genuinely believed that, with such privileges, we would be able to recognize human rights and the violations of those rights. I was deeply convinced that those horrors could never be repeated again. It would have been impossible. “You can’t make the same mistake twice! And then, now, there is democracy. It’s impossible to go back,” I thought.
As a European child of the 1980s, I imagined that the history of humanity was like a staircase, that goes from the darkness of brutality to the light of knowledge and the triumph of good. I was unaware of the fact that the evolution of human society follows tortuous paths. We get lost and sometimes retrace our steps backwards. In my naiveté, I wondered how people before me could have been so stupid. I asked myself, How was it possible that no one was able to see the tragedy unfolding under their own eyes?
“If understanding is impossible, knowing is necessary, because what happened can return, consciences can be seduced and obscured again. Ours as well.”
Primo Levi. 1Primo Levi was born on July 31, 1919 in Turin, Italy. He was one of the greatest italian writers. He was the author of several books, novels, collections of short stories, essays, and poems. His best-known work includes If This Is a Man (1947, published as Survival in Auschwitz in the United States.) He was a partisan, anti fascist and Holocaust survivor. Because he was an Italian Jewish, he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp in Auschwitz, on December 13, 1943. After escaping from the lager, he came back to Italy. He decided to dedicate the rest of his life telling the atrocity of the concentration camp. However, that traumatic experience is probably the reason of his suicide, in 1987.
As a young girl, this line by Primo Levi seemed too alarmist to me. But on the other hand, after everything Levi had to see and gone through, what did I know? Over the years, I’ve come to see the truth of his statement, as the society in which I live, revealed more and more a disturbingly familiar face, as if it were a strange déjà vu. Was this the face of fascism, then?, I wondered.
Oh, yes. Only now I realize it.
Here it is. It is back. Though, actually, the truth is that he never really went away. It was always there, since it flows like an eternal, polluted underground river, stealthily spreading wherever in the world it finds favorable ground. At an early stage, on the surface, everyday life seems to be unremarkable, peaceful and quiet. But if you are careful enough, you may hear a gurgle in the background.
Pay attention to what your senses say to you. Listen. And like sailors do, equip yourself with your finest hearing and sight and all the instruments you received from the generations that preceded you, since it is necessary to be able to read the arrival of a storm in advance.
Your existence depends on your own awareness, which is related to collective awareness.
Do not underestimate that gurgling in the background, because the corrosive power of hatred is devastating: even the smallest, innocent hole can turn into a crater that opens access to a humanitarian catastrophe.
If you do not have good banks, if over the years you have not been constantly at work at the maintenance of canals, purification plants, and if you have not constantly been monitoring every little crack… the underground river will gush out of control, polluting and sowing destruction. Mercilessly, in every corner of the earth.
Totalitarianism comes “on the sly”: at the beginning it is like an imperceptible scratch, a jarring note that no one hears, a small detail that is usually diminished, but that we should notice, instead, in order to immediately run for cover. When you find that scratch, when you perceive that discordant note, that small, innocent detail, it means that the disease has already had time to feed and grow undisturbed: like a cavity that has eaten the inside of a tooth, that looks intact from the outside.
Dictatorships arrive flying in on the wings of doves. They will tell us that they are a sign of God. They will tell us that they have come for our sake, for our safety. They wear siren masks, and sing promises of freedom.
In the name of freedom they will crush the freedom of others; in the name of divine justice they will be ready to kill even God; in the name of love for their country they will unleash the worst of nationalisms; they will carry out the most extreme oppressions by saying that they are protecting you from foreign invaders who will tear away your identity and replace it with their own. They will make you believe that beyond the borders there are only enemies.
They will say that anyone who actively stands up for human rights, equality and tolerance is a subversive, a terrorist. They will inform you that slander, offense and hate speech correspond to freedom of speech and freedom of thought; they will urge you to defend that so-called “freedom” by any means and they will give you permission to use weapons and violence whenever the abusive boundaries of the unfair laws that they have imposed are violated.
Dictatorships will train you to think that the most vulnerable among us are only leeches of society so that you will not see it when their rights are crushed, and yours as well. They will tell you that those who reach out to ask for help do so because they want to take advantage of everything you have earned with the sweat of your brow. They will make you believe that a man with a child in his arms who is drowning in the sea while trying to escape from a burning land is only a criminal, a parasite who wants to take away from you your home, your job, your wellness and your rights, a killer who endangered his son’s life…and that, for all this, he deserved to die.
They will want you to be blind: they will promise everyone a personal, enchanted garden, providing all the superfluous things one thinks they need to have, as long as you are quiet and never leave the walls of that garden. You will live by their promises of greatness, which you will have to pay in advance with inhumanity, with blindness, with contempt for your neighbor and for the inherent value of life itself.
And they will tell you that God will be on your side, if you can be blind enough not to see the blood, the dead, the injustices, so blind to deny even what is happening under your nose. And they will be happy to give acorns for your hatred, making it fat like a pig to flaunt on the altar of Love for the Nation. Or, if you are not pigs, they will threaten you, so that you are too afraid to raise your head to shout “NO!”: as long as you can live in peace, you will choose the silence of a feigned indifference, in which you will let yourself die.
The only weapons we have to counter the return of fascism are awareness, critical thinking, constant attention and constant work. Freedom and democracy are not, in fact, fixed, immutable things, included in a default accessorized kit that “saddle” you when you are born. The only thing we receive when we come into the world is the great responsibility towards humanity and ourselves, since each of us has our own role in helping to ensure the integrity and inviolability of the rights of every human being. This involves all our commitment. Democracy must be constantly watched and protected, since it is a fragile flame under the storm of conflict.
Nice words, right? Yes, sure.
But when a few years ago, in my country, Italy, the first neo-fascist regurgitations began to pop up here and there, like those swastikas on the walls of cities and public bathrooms, many of us (despite all the education we had received) believed that it was just a stupid game, not worthy of attention nor importance. No one seemed aware of what was really going on. Others, on the other hand, preferred to pretend not to have that awareness, despite the fact that the promotion of fascism is a crime by law.
No one, including the institutions, took the necessary measures in time to prevent certain atrocities from gaining weight like pigs and running around the country freely (with all due respect to the poor pigs.)
As history teaches, the lack of attention and awareness gives fertilizer to the tragedies of humanity. Underestimating such tragedies is like adding fuel to the fire of hatred. Those episodes, in fact, were only the beginning of a series of events that began to “repeat,” like in the past.
Not so long after that beginning, the doors of the homes of many Jewish citizens, former partisans, and survivors of the Nazi extermination camps, were filled with swastikas and hateful words, such as “Juden mier”, while the Italian and European newspapers were saturated with news that reported the exponential growth of hate acts and manifestations of intolerance among the population: violence against migrants and ethnic and religious minorities, discrimination, insults, murders, all kinds of abuse.
Information was also beginning to suffer heavy attacks on a daily basis: television and radio programs of political and cultural insights were suspended, while many journalists suffered media pillories and smear campaigns set in motion by powerful politicians.
Those “ignorant people” were not playing at all. They actually never were. What is happening cannot be underestimated anymore: violence knows no bounds and grows dramatically, in the space provided by the attention it does not receive.
A lost sense of humanity
Contemporary humanitarian disasters, such as the silent massacre of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, receive little attention. This silent massacre is consequence of the “closed ports” policy of European governments and the criminalization and denigration of NGOs dedicated to the rescue of the capsized and drowning, accused of collaboration with smugglers.
The death of those who try to reach the shores of Europe is one of the most abominable consequences of the cultural and humanitarian degradation of our times. It evinces the extent to which the culture of hatred has grown.
There is too little talk in newspapers about the boats loaded with hundreds of migrants that take on water and disappear among the waves, every day in the Mediterranean.
The smear campaigns carried out by some European politicians, in addition to the poor coordination among the EU governments in the management of the rescue operations and the insufficient patrolling of the central Mediterranean, represent a lethal cocktail: the delay of rescues, their boycott or the total lack of assistance are practices that result in shipwrecks, often without witnesses. What’s more, one must add to all this the illegal push backs of boats in difficulty which, in contrast to the principle of non-refoulement 2Non-refoulement is a fundamental principle of international law that forbids a country receiving asylum seekers from returning them to a country in which they would be in likely danger of persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. For more info about the principle of Non-refoulement, read the following document: pdf , often lead to migrants being captured by the Libyan coast guard 3link to Alarm Phone: Don’t let them drown and taken back to the hell of the concentration camps.4 Link: External borders control: a real risk of violation of the principle of non-refoulement
“There is a chilling similarity in what happened (referring to the Shoah) and the events that today see thousands of people dying in the Mediterranean […] Migrants deported and drowned at sea; they do not have an identity anymore: they are just numbers, abstract entities without a face, without future, without, even, a history. “
Many people now see in the persecutory policies that many European governments have continued to pursue towards migrants, a chilling echo of the persecution of Jews and deportations during Nazism.
The smear campaign against those who save lives at sea, led by numerous government officials within the European Union, describes migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as criminals and NGOs as enemies of the state and abettors of “illegal immigration”.
There is, on the part of many members of far-right (but not only far-right) parties, the maintenance of a divisive narrative that feeds fear towards immigrants, as well as the activation of cruel and ineffective measures that only increase human suffering and punish those who try to help. 6Amnesty International: “In the summer of 2019 European governments left hundreds of people who had been rescued at sea stranded for weeks, cut adrift in the central Mediterranean” Read the article
Although the distortion of reality used to fuel fear and create an “enemy” is obvious and paradoxical, it still manages to have a negative impact: the average citizen perceives these accusations as real, and consequently supports the crimes of governments, rather than dissociating from them or fighting against them. This impedes the work and actions of those who are really defending human rights. Shipwrecks are the order of the day. This is what happens to migrants trying to reach European shores. On the mainland, however, those who are active on the front of reception and integration, undergo other kinds of snubs.
Around 2018, the Italian government began (among many other things), a mass evacuation and mass clearance of numerous centers for asylum seekers and refugees, leaving women, men and children homeless, without protection or help. Humanitarian programs were destroyed, funds cut, and those who worked for these programs lost their jobs. 7Link ansa
Internet and Hate
The anomalous wave of hatred, racism, and xenophobia is spreading out alarmingly along with the spread of philosophies inspired by fascism and Nazism. This has tragic consequences, as we have seen. Social media, in particular, is a shiny mirror that reflects a painful image of our current society; indeed, over time they have been transformed from a “mirror” into a real “magnifying glass” of the humanitarian and cultural crisis we are experiencing.
Though violence on social media is manifested through a virtual medium, it is in fact real, and has the power to grow exponentially as it manifests itself among us.
This culture of hatred and violence is supported and fueled by a certain type of political discourse propagated by social networks: when a government representative or a member of a party officially shows this pride in communicating certain anti-Semitic, racist, or xenophobic ideas by passing them off as freedom of opinion, the “average” citizen feels ideologically supported and justified in expressing these “opinions” through hate speech and violent acts.
The case of the 28-year-old Italian Luca Traini, who, wearing an Italian flag and showing the fascist salute, shot six migrants on the streets of Macerata in 2018 is a tragic example of the results of such speech.
Traini’s terrible acts were not only consequence of the spread of certain ideologies, but were also a source of inspiration for the “common xenophobe”: after the attack, Traini became a hero to certain segments of Italian society, a symbol of an Italy that reacts and defends itself from the “bogeyman” of immigration: after that tragic event, “groups that solidarized with Traini, administered by people with a lot of balaclavas on their heads and a troop of fascist adherents” flourished on Facebook. 8(Quote: Il Fatto Quotidiano, Newspaper)
Furthermore, the case of Macerata is disturbingly connected with the terrorist attack that targeted two mosques in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, 2019. Fifty people were killed, and just as many were wounded in this attack.
On the bomber’s weapon magazine, the police found a list of names of other far-right terrorists who “inspired” the attack. Traini’s name was among them. Furthermore, the authorities found an 87-page manifesto filled with anti-immigration and anti-Islamist ideas. 9Link: “US-inspired rightwing extremism an ‘insidious’ threat to Australia, study finds”
There is a chilling detail in the Christchurch attack: the terrorist filmed the shooting in person, and the video was streamed live on social media, going viral in a short time and collecting countless views on the internet.
Here there are some excerpts from an article by Jenni Marsh and Tara Mulholland for CNN, reflecting on the Christchurch shooting and the role of the Internet in the spread of anti-Semitism:
In a sickening angle to an already horrific story, it was live-streamed online. In fact, the entire attack seemed orchestrated for the social media age. Before it took place, a post on the anonymous message board 8chan — a particularly lawless forum that often features racist and extremist posts — seemed to preview the horror. It linked out to an 87-page manifesto filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim ideas, and directed users to a Facebook page that hosted the live stream. Posts on Twitter also appeared to herald the attack […]
But this attack was about far more than that influx in Christchurch. This was about the rise of white supremacy online and the power of social media in spreading that message. […]
At first glance, the shooter’s “manifesto” seems to recall those of previous white nationalist killers such as Anders Breivik, a far-right terrorist who committed the 2011 Norway attacks. But this document is distinctive in being riddled with sarcastic language, deliberate red herrings and allusions to online meme culture, suggesting an internet-driven evolution of nationalist hatred. […]
Lee Jarvis, co-editor of the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism, says that the internet has provided people with minority-held beliefs a space to connect with other like-minded people in a way that can normalize their world view.
“There are fears that if you have a small number of people with the same ideas, the ideas feel more legitimate and widespread than they actually are,” Jarvis says. “The fact that the document is laced with internet in-jokes, references and memes underlines that many white supremacists are radicalized by socializing with each other online.” 10Read the whole article: “How the Christchurch terrorist attack was made for social media”: link
Unfortunately, this was not the first case in which the Internet played a fundamental role in the spectacularization of terrorist attacks. For example, even in the attack on the synagogue in Halle, Germany on 9 October 2019, the bomber filmed the attack with a camera assembled on his helmet. 11The Guardian
Today there are many studies, articles, discussions on the role of the internet and in particular of social media in promoting “cultures of hate.”
Far-right terrorism, as well as Isis and Al Qaeda, for example, use the Internet to stage terror with the aim of frightening viewers. But, the spectacularization of violence is not the only use of the Internet for those who are part of these organizations. As seen in previous articles and various studies, the internet plays a fundamental, strategic role in the propagation of hate, as it connects individuals with the same ideologies. Furthermore, social networks have become a virtual square in which these people can feel free to express intolerance through the “practice” of hate speech, which feeds violence in a cause-effect loop. 12“Terrorism and the Media: A Handbook for Journalists” UNESCO
Social networks and political propaganda
There are many kinds of terrorism around the world, including psychological terrorism and hate speech.
Today, given the times, politicians must know how to use social networks. But it is not so much the “means” but the political use of such means that is concerning, as many political authorities employ social media as a tool of personal propaganda. There is a big difference between using an instrument of connection to spread a political message and the abuse of the power of communication.
In recent decades there have been a series of political, social and economic changes that have occurred precisely due to the advent of the digitization of information, which consequently have led to new ways of communicating, as well as new ways of disclosing information. Through social media, we can have direct access to millions and millions of people without official intermediaries. To reach the public, politicians now use a kind of communication intended specifically for the average electorate of the digital age.
Certain channels, however, seem to have the power to bypass the authority of the official press, which at a superficial glance seems to have been reduced to a superfluous accessory of information.
Nowadays, the average citizen encounters the news more and more often from social media posts, as well as among the comments of social media pages, many times confusing memes with official press releases and personal opinions with the truth.
In the profiles of some of our political personalities you can find everything: from pictures of meals, kittens, vacation photos, love stories, cocktails, ballet on Tik Tok… Everything including the politicized advertising of canned beans.13 “Late Night Thinks the Trumps Are Full of Beans” –The new York Times
But we can also find hate speech, the promotion of fascism, invasion of privacy, media pillories, smear campaigns, and fake news.
Everything is allowed, in this strange game in which it is showed that the democratic majority is reached by “followers” and “likes”, and in which power, in the end, is obtained by those who are able to scream louder, or better flaunt their own image, distort reality, and spread memes saturated with racism, slander and fake news.
This, however, is only what we can see on the surface. In fact, it is no longer a mystery that some politicians use mass monitoring mechanisms to gather information on people’s political orientation, and on the predominant topic among the population.
The goal is to win “fans” and voters. Through the use of particular software, numerous collaborators and a huge amount of money, social media are used as a thermometer of social feeling in order to ride the majority thought of the moment, and to capture, reach and direct the thinking of the population. Through fake social profiles, collaborators set up controversies by commenting, posting fake news, and creating havoc, disinformation and fear. We can see the results, growing alongside the venom that propagates online.
# # #
Fascism is convenient to Italians because it is in their nature and contains their aspirations, exalts their hatred, reassures their inferiority. Fascism is demagogic but also bossy, rhetorical, xenophobic, a hater of culture, it harbors contempt for freedom and justice, it is an oppressor of the weak, servant of the strong, always ready to point out in its “others” the causes of its impotence or defeat. Fascism is lyrical, gerontophobic, hooligan if necessary, always stupid, but also brisk, plagiarist, mannerist. The fascist doesn’t love nature, because he identifies nature in country life, that is, in the life of servants; but he is a peasant, that is, he has the arrogance of an enriched servant. He hates animals, has no sense of art, does not like solitude, nor does he respect his neighbor, who on the other hand does not respect him. He does not love love, but possession. Fascism has no religious sense, but sees religion as the bulwark to prevent others from coming to power. Intimately the fascist believes in God, but as an entity with which he has established an agreement, do ut des. He is superstitious, he wants to be free to do what he likes, especially if to the detriment or annoyance of others. The fascist is willing to do anything as long as he is the boss, the father.
Ennio Flaiano 15March 5, 1910 – November 20, 1972. Italian screenwriter, writer, journalist, humorist, film critic and playwright.
It is easy to find individuals, groups, laws, cultures, and governments in the world that faithfully correspond to the description offered by Flaiano.
Totalitarianism has many faces, many names, but don’t be fooled. Know how to recognize it and counter it. You will often find it very close to you. It might even look like you. Doing things that seem to be innocuous: yes, the tyrant may even seem nice to you, while he smiles at the camera and shares photos of an unhealthy meal with you.
What about the Resistance?
So, should we blame social networks for the rapid spread of hatred in our society?
Social media are only a means. And like any means, they play only a part in spreading destructive ideologies. But there is no doubt that hatred would have spread the same without the existence of the network, as it has always been since the dawn of time.
There are also positive aspects to the Internet’s ability to connect individuals across space and time. The network is not only a means of spreading hatred, but is also a place for real acts of “resistance”. The digital and fast news era has also changed the way of doing social activism: those who defend human rights have also learned how to creatively use the means made available by technology and network connection in order to make their voices heard.
The use of social media technology for the defense of human rights can be done in a thousand different ways: by the sharing of information and opinions; by writing or making art; the documentation of situations and denouncing of injustice through the sharing of videos, photos and testimonies; by opening a blog or a Facebook page; by creating an app that connects people and shares useful information to citizens.
Sharing is the beating heart of social activism, but also of our time. The Internet is the undisputed king of sharing: the slogan emphasized on social media is “share!”, after all!
# # #
Journalists, lawyers, writers, artists, health workers, teachers, trade unionists, farmers, students, factory workers, housekeepers, the unemployed, men, women, transgender, young and old: ordinary people. They come from different walks of life, but they all have a common feeling that leads them to act against injustice, alone or in groups, defending human rights and repudiating hatred, discrimination and violence. Their actions can be “small”, such as debating with those who adopt violent language, or they can be large. In any case, they arise from the need to find a democratic ground on which to give birth to a real dialogue, free from the use of hatred as an instrument of division and repression of dissent. Big or small, every action is important and can make a huge difference in our society, since we all are part of the same system.
Among the countless examples of Internet activism, I have chosen three cases that highlight how this versatile tool lends itself to creativity, expression and the dissemination of positive messages, gathering the multitudes and organizing actions that can really make a difference .
1: Odiare ti Costa (“Hating costs you”)
Despite attempts to peacefully dialogue, those engaging Internet platforms are too often verbally attacked and threatened, or even criminalized, stigmatized, slandered, and monitored. The advent of the Internet and social networks has created new ways to connect and interact but, consequently, new problems have emerged that require novel solutions. This new necessity pushes us to create laws and regulations that protect those who are victims of the ever growing online hatred.
“Odiare ti Costa” (“Hating costs you”) is a project launched in 2019 by Cathy La Torre, an Italian lawyer specialized in anti-discrimination law with particular reference to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and on the rights of the LGBTQI community. “Hating costs you” was created precisely to offer legal assistance to those who are victims of slander, defamation and hate speech. It also promotes the conscious use of social media and of the web, as well as a language free of hatred, prejudices and stereotypes. In addition, the platform is concretely committed to the application of the “Code of Conduct to combat illegal hate speech online, signed between the European Commission and major social media platforms.” 16Odiare Ti Costa
Through its campaign, “Hating costs you” exhaustively defines the difference between freedom of opinion and crime:
“If the right to criticize is sacred and inviolable, if freedom of opinion is sacred and inviolable, if freedom of dissent, even if harsh, hard, clear, frank, is a sacred and inviolable right… defamation, insult, slander, offense, and threats are not. These are crimes. Even (and above all) on social networks. They cause damage. And those damages must be compensated. Criticizing a woman for her political positions is a sacred right. But wishing her rape is a crime. Criticizing a person for sympathizing with migrants is a sacred right. Insulting, accusing and accusing her of some crime without proof… is a crime! Criticizing a homosexual for his ideas is a sacred right: insulting him, offending him, reviling him, and wishing or promising him violence are not: these are crimes. These are detrimental. And they must be paid for.”17Extract from an article by Adriano Ercolani, Il Fatto Quotidiano, 24 July 2019)
2: The Sardines
On November 14, 2020, the Lega party18 The right-wing populist party of which Matteo Salvini is secretary organized an event at the Paladozza in Bologna, at the start of the election campaign in the region of Emilia-Romagna.
In the meanwhile, a group of four friends created a protest on Facebook against the event of the Lega party, giving it the name of “6000 sardines against Salvini”; the name Sardine 19Sardines movement was chosen as a call to stay tight in the square “like sardines in a box ” and in reference to the behavior of these animals, which, despite being small, are able to thwart attacks by predators in virtue of their large number and spirit of collaboration.”
“We want to show that numbers count more than arrogance”, explained the organizers, who aimed that day to gather at least 6,000 people in Piazza Maggiore in order to overshadow with their great numbers the election campaign of the Lega.
In their manifesto, the Sardines declare that they demonstrate peacefully and without any party’s flags against hatred and the strongly worded speech typical of populist rhetoric. The Sardines demand political transparency,20Publication of the first manifesto of the movement, called “Welcome to the open sea”, in which it is announced the fight against the populism official condemnation of hate speech, and the creation of a legislative proposal against verbal violence (to be considered as on par with physical violence). Among other important points, they request a new immigration management policy in Italy, asking for the abolition of the “Security Decree” promoted by Matteo Salvini, who introduced a series of measures against the reception of migrants that facilitate their deportation. 21Source: link Such massive and intense participation was a surprise to many: on that day, the city of Bologna saw the flash mob of the Sardines turn into a gathering of 15 thousand people in the main city square. The success of this movement did not stop after the regional elections: in a matter of weeks it spread throughout the whole of Italy, from north to south, and crossed national borders, giving birth to initiatives and mobilizations among Italians abroad who gave the movement international visibility. 22Article
Those huge crowds of colorful people, defined by opponents as a “crowd of potheads communists from squat social centers, attackers of freedom of opinion”, was composed of ordinary, multicultural, peaceful people, who were finally claiming respect and the inviolability of universal values and human rights. Demonstrating in the streets against racism, xenophobia and all forms of hatred, the crowd reiterated that hate speech and the promotion of fascism are neither freedom of thought nor opinions, but crimes that must be fought.
Finally, Italians had gathered together, in person, facing one another and recognizing themselves in the gaze of others. While taking stock of the number gathered, faces were incredulous. One felt part of a great collective force, part of a people that had always been there but had been momentarily lost and disrupted. It was a moment to realize this people’s own potential.
I had never seen a movement of such magnitude in my country. I had never seen so many people standing united against hatred until some days after May 25th, 2020–the date of George Floyd’s murder—when people all across the globe took to the streets.
3: Black Lives Matter
A policeman with his knee on the neck of the victim for more than eight minutes, the stunted words of a man lying on the ground, struggling to say “I can’t breathe”: The video of George Floyd’s murder was released on the Internet by some witnesses and soon went viral. The sharing of that video testimony sparked widespread protests, which led tens of thousands of people of every color and age to fill the squares and streets of the whole United States.
The protests took place under the flag of Black Lives Matter, the international activist movement born within the African American community in 2013, after the acquittal of the killer who murdered, in 2012, the 17-year-old African American Trayvon Martin. Black Lives Matter regularly organizes protests against the murders of black people, the brutality, the violence and the abuse of power by the US police, and against issues such as racial profiling, structural racism, and racial inequality in the US legal system. 23BLM Official Site
During the demonstrations following Floyd’s death, Trump shared a letter in which he referred to the peaceful protesters as “terrorists”:
“The phony protesters near Lafayette were not peaceful and are not real,” Dowd’s letter claimed, without citing any evidence. “They are terrorists using idle hate filled students to burn and destroy. They were abusing and disrespecting the police when the police were preparing the area for the 1900 curfew.” 24Read the CNN article
CNN reported that law enforcement officers used tear gas to disperse crowds of peaceful protesters, but the official version of events changed repeatedly. However, the protests attracted the likes of Republican Senator Mitt Romney and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who marched with the demonstrators.
There is a very significant anecdote from those first weeks of protests in Washington DC: as protests rallied, President Trump erected a huge barricade around the White House to protect it “from the fury of terrorists”25Cnn article by trump building the wall (you will call us terrorists): a metal fence immediately brought to mind images of that infamous and inhumane wall between the United States and Mexico.
But something beautiful and incredible happened: the peaceful demonstrators turned that symbol of division into a memorial to all African Americans killed by the violence of the police and by the violence of racism. Journalists documented the metamorphosis of the metal fence as it came to life with the colors of flowers, drawings, balloons for Breonna Taylor’s birthday, portraits of George Floyd and signs for Emmet Till. Every day more and more tributes and messages were added on the memorial, which gradually filled with the names of all those whose breath of life was wrongfully extinguished in apparent impunity.
In front of that wall, parents of all colors took their children by the hand to tell them what was happening and to explain to them why it was so important to be there, all together.
The murder of George Floyd was able to awake the telluric energy of a global rebellion through the sharing of a video, carried through social media networks. In history, we have never witnessed something like this: in spite of political and geographical boundaries, activists all across the globe united under the banner of Black Lives Matter to share a common struggle: a struggle that crosses every border, including the much patrolled borders of the United States.
The whole world is in revolt: not only in solidarity with the African-American community, resisting police violence and structural racism in the United States, but against the social differences caused by racism everywhere, against the colonial history and the effects of colonialism in Africa, in South America…all across the globe. Protestors across the globe are uniting against the xenophobia that kills hundreds of migrants a day in the Mediterranean, in the desert, at borders, in concentration camps, standing against all forms of discrimination, against the culture of rampant hatred in Europe, Africa, South America, Asia, Israel and Palestine. Black Lives Matter. Everywhere, not just in the USA.
# # #
It doesn’t matter where we live or where we were born, what color our skin is, what age we are; those barbed wire boundaries, placed by those who would keep us apart, have been broken. We are here, and we are brothers and sisters of the same homeland. We recognize each other through our gaze and through our words. No matter the language, we speak of justice, freedom, rights and equality. We are the humanity that stands against hatred. Fascists: listen to us carefully: “We won’t take it anymore”. We will say this in every language. The old and the young will tell you.
You will get angry. You will get angry, you will call us “terrorists”, you will build higher and higher walls, until you find your own self trapped in your gilded White House, made a prisoner by your own hands. You will be afraid when we turn every wall into a memorial because nothing scares you more than memory, nothing terrifies you more than free people who speak of justice, who cry out against the horror of violence. Nothing scares you more than those who take to the streets and, looking each other in the eye, speak out for all people, in our own name and in the name of those whose breath has been wrongfully extinguished by hatred, ignorance and systemic violence. It is also in your name that we will speak out, since our fight leaves no one behind. Even you.
Laura Grimaldi 26Laura Grimaldi is the author of the post Beauty and “The Beast”, and of the painting “The Beast” you can see on this page. All Rights are Reserved
English translation edited by Christine Martinez
If you want to receive new posts like this by email in the future, subscribe to this blog: It’s free!
Read the previous posts: Click!