Occupy Wall Street? No, Occupy Rome and March to Athens!

Tents have come up by the dozen all over Rome, with posters of protest. Was it another Occupy Wall Street in the making? 

On January 14, I decided to take a stroll and find out. I came up to the old walls of Rome at the San Giovanni gate:

Crossing the gate, you arrive upon the vast piazza of San Giovanni, with the Church hiding behind the trees:

Across from it is St. Francis' statue, raising his arms to the sky and...covered with posters and surrounded by tents:

What do the posters say? There were more than I could take in, but the protest messages were quite clear:


Here you have to interpret a little: made in China = slavery, referring no doubt to the low pay and hard wok conditions of Chinese workers. And next to it in Spanish: This is not Woodstock, This is (a fight for) Justice (literally: this is not Woodstock, this is Right).

Far from not having any political ideas, they seem to be boiling over with them (with possibly some not quite "baked"). Here is one of the posters announcing their political activities:

It announces that on Sunday 15 January, they plan on having an assembly on the theme of Work and Social Income followed at 2 pm by a "*Carnival of the System* Creative Action Through the Streets of Rome". To be followed on Monday 16 by a "Meeting on the Situation in Palestine" and a "Proposal to [organize] a March to Palestine". Given the tension in Gaza, I wonder how many will decide to do that...

In case you missed the overall objective, here it is, spread in big letters across St Francis' statue:

Yes, it reads: "[For the] Construction [of a] Better Future". These kids certainly have a clear agenda: overhaul society and make it better. And just in case you didn't get it, here is the place they dedicate to the role of books and ideas:

The two posters in the back make it clear: "Because Books transmit the Revolution to [future] Generations" and "Because Change is Achieved through Culture". 

At that point, I wanted to know more about them. I spotted a couple of girls painting posters on the sidewalk and walked up to them:

I approached the girl who's turning our back to us in this picture and asked her what she was doing. A multiple poster, she said. If you look closely at the picture, you'll see she had completed the drawing of a missile and was now working on painting a peace dove. She showed me the sketch she was working from:

The message here needs no translation! 

I first started speaking to her in Italian and she shook her head, answering in Spanish. I asked her in that language whether she was coming from Spain and she said she came from France. At that point we both laughed and fell into French (my mother tongue). 

She told me there were about 80 of them in the encampment and that they came from everywhere: Australia, Bangladesh, Spain, Peru... Looking at them, anyone can see they come from all over:

She said she had joined them here in Rome on 5 January - and that there was a hard core of some 30 participants that had started from Nice (France) in November. They plan to walk down through Italy all the way to Bari and then cross over on a ferry headed for Greece. They expect to reach Athens by March, stopping along the way in all major towns to express their "indignation" - as they were doing here in Rome during their two week stay, organizing meetings and marches through town, like the one planned for Sunday, from Piazza San Giovanni to Piazza del Popolo.

I asked her whether she was staying with them till Athens but she shook her head, no, she was a design student in a Paris university and had to work and study.

So this is the March of the Indignados to Athens. When they stop on the way they are joined by others like this girl who give them a hand for a few days - thus clarifying to me one of the mysteries of the Occupy Wall Street protest movements. Since they last so long, I thought they included only the unemployed or otherwise disoccupied young. But no, that is not the case. Those who work join them temporarily, swelling their ranks when they stop in big cities and adding fuel to their enthusiasm...And while overwhelmingly young, there are some older people too, like this man on the foreground, busy drawing a poster:

I asked my French friend whether the police had bothered them and she shook her head. Actually people in the neighborhood were nice and supportive,she said. One had even lent them his apartment so they could have warm showers. And food was regularly brought to them every day:

Certainly the mild winter weather in Rome and Athens helps maintain the momentum of such protest movements. I imagine that for the moment, with snow and sleet, there are very few such movements in the States...

Is there any around you?

Post-scriptum: On Sunday January 15, the march across Rome from Piazza San Giovanni to Piazza del Popolo took a wrong turn. A small group (about 50, mostly French and Spanish) went as far as St Peter's and tried to set up a protest encampment, only to be dispersed by the police in riot gear. A couple of people got hurt but the plaza in front of St. Peter's was cleared.  

It seems one of the protesters was disguised in a pope's outfit and bore the slogan "indignant heart", a reference to the Spanish Indignados movement. They naively expected support from the Vatican. Instead, Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that "considering the actions undertaken and the language used, these Indignados evidently wanted to use the piazza in an improper way, not in keeping with the spirit of the place." 

It goes to show that some disobediance is ok but you can't win them all!

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