U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome Italy anti-war demonstration in Rome

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Italian National Assembly of the Anti-war Movement

February 11-12, 2006

Under a large banner reading "Stop the War – Set Peace Free" and with the slogan, "Security will only come with peace", the Italian National Assembly of the Anti-War Movement got underway in Florence, on Saturday, February 11, 2006. Around 200 people filled the hall of the Architecture Faculty for the two-day event focused on the national demonstration in Rome on March 18 as well as the recent World Social Forums, Europe's role in the plan for permanent war, demilitarization and disarmament, migrants and refugees and the occupation of Palestine.

The first session included reports from the World Social Forums in Caracas, Venezuela and Bamako, Mali as well as a presentation of the worldwide protests slated for March 18 2006, including the Italian national demonstration in Rome.

Piero Bernocchi of Cobas reported on the event in Caracas, which focused on issues such as WTO policies, water, health, education, and most importantly, the struggle against permanent war. The final document called for worldwide mobilization for March 18, for the withdrawal of troops not only from Iraq but from all occupied countries and the closing of military bases.

Bernocchi, not known as a moderate, talked about the forum's decision to leave out the divisive issue of supporting or not the armed resistance in Iraq. He agreed that this was the best solution in order to guarantee a wider appeal and also because he deemed it an issue the various groups could not possibly come to an agreement on.

He suggested that only those groups whose views differ 180 degrees from the appeal should refrain from participating on March 18. "If you support war, don't come. If you support torture, don't come. Everyone else should participate."

Raffaela Bolini of Arci reported on the event in Bamako. She talked about the paradox of how it is easier to organize an African conference in Europe due to the lack of infrastructure and difficulty of travel between African nations. She also spoke of European tendency to divide Africa, offering support to the north but only to stop the flow of migrants, with money used to train police and law enforcement agencies.

From the forum in Bamako there was a strong message to end NGOism, where organizations answer to the top, i.e. those who provide funds, rather than the people they are ostensibly helping. And also to stop wasting time on the targeted 0.7% of GDP for development aid and to instead work for debt cancellation.

Fabio Alberti of Un ponte per… reminded us all, that no matter who wins the upcoming general elections in Italy, left or right, if troops are withdrawn from Iraq the credit must go to the anti war movement. Both he and Nella Ginatempo of Bastaguerra recognized the need to mobilize in order to get as many people as possible to participate, also in light of the election campaign, with press conferences and pressure on the media.

Several groups called attention to the need to support the Iraqi resistance, including the armed resistance, and asked that this be added to the call to action for the demonstration. However, the majority maintained that support of those who target innocent civilians must be excluded from the main platform. There was, of course, full support for peaceful resistance.

During the morning session, word was passed on from Rome where a demonstration was taking place for full autonomy of the Italian state from the Vatican, calling for the cancellation of an agreement made 77 years ago between Mussolini and the Church. A banner reading "Ruini and Ratzinger Dangerous Meddlers", referring to the pope and a cardinal, had been seized by the police. The news met with at first surprise and later laughter, as this was beyond ridiculous.

Philip Rushton of Un ponte per… presented the organization's plan to bring representatives of the military families and veterans' organizations from the U.S. and the U.K. as well as refuseniks from Israel. The idea is for a week of speaking engagements as a build up for the March 18 demonstration as well as to bring the voice of military dissent to Italy.

Iran was also a hot subject and all agreed that sanctions and military action were not the answer. And Alfio Nicotra of Partito della Rifondazione Comunista reminded all that we should also oppose nuclear power for civil use. He talked about the referendum of 1987 against nuclear power production in Italy as a great conquest and the need for the anti-nuclear movement and the peace movement to band together. The assembly also condemned threats against Syria and the concept of permanent war.

Italy has a number of large U.S. military and NATO installations and an afternoon session was dedicated to demilitarization and reconversion. The campaigns against Camp Darby, the largest U.S. arsenal abroad, Aviano, where nuclear weapons are stored in violation of the non-proliferation treaty, la Maddalena in Sardinia and Sigonella in Sicily were presented. Lisa Clark of Blessed Are the Peacemakers proposed a trip to Aviano on March 19 for a "public inspection" of the base.

The final session of the day dealt with issues regarding migrants, refugees, detention centers and civil rights, all topics closely related to permanent war. Many spoke of the need to involve immigrants resident in Italy in the anti-war movement, but as others rightly pointed out, you need first to make sure the anti-war movement is involved in the migrant demonstrations.

There was also talk of the racist quotas that facilitate immigration by white Christians only and the fact that requirements are left up to individual Consuls, which leads corruption.

The next day began with a session on Palestine. A banner was hung reading "First of All the Wall Must Fall / Anzitutto il muro va distrutto." Several speakers, who had been present for the recent elections, reported that the Hamas victory had come as a surprise. There was no doubt that the elections had been conducted properly and the results must be respected, though it was noted that the Hamas victory will make the work of those pushing for support of a Palestinian state more difficult. And the worst mistake we can make at this point is to cut funding or support of Palestinians.

A young Palestinian present spoke of a friend who had been received his Italian ID card the day before. As nationality on the card he was listed as "foreigner" since no option exists for Palestinians.

The reasons behind the Hamas victory were obvious; this was a vote of protest, a vote against corruption. Those who were present during the elections and had talked with the people at the polls noted that most felt they had no choice but to vote Hamas, also as a way of guaranteeing the continuation of the struggle for the Palestinian people. The vote for Hamas was recognized as the most radical, but necessary.

There was an appeal for the demonstration for Palestine in Rome on February 18 with a call for wide participation. Another to support the more moderate components of Hamas. Ilse Girona of U.S. Citizens Against War of Florence recognized how important her dissenting voice had been when speaking of U.S. foreign policy and called on the movement to find voices of dissent among Israelis and to help make their voices heard.

It was recognized that discussion of 1 state two peoples, 2 states 2 peoples, etc should be left up to the Palestinian people, that it is not up to us to decide. The appeal for the demonstration on February 18 included support for armed resistance and this was not backed by all present. The assembly therefore decided not to endorse the demonstration on February 18 and left it up to individual groups to endorse or not.

The assembly concluded with a final debate on the March 18 demonstration. There was some question on whether or not flags and banners promoting individual groups should used. This was obviously directed at the political parties, however as one speaker noted, in this case it would be important to see which parties participated, again in light of the upcoming elections in April. It was agreed that groups would carry their own flags as well as peace flags.

Bernocchi repeated his call for wide participation and not only those who agreed 100% with the platform. And falling just 3 weeks prior to the general elections, everyone recognized the importance of this demonstration.

In two days of assembly, speakers from the various components that make up the rich peace movement in Italy shared ideas and experiences. Differing points of view were expressed but the resounding call from the assembly was to build consensus and concentrate on the things that unite the movement.

Stephanie Westbrook


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Copyright © 2006 Stephanie Westbrook  All rights reserved.
U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome, Italy