A Report from Vicenza, Italy and the No Dal Molin Festival Against U.S. Military Expansion and War
[See also an account of the first few days: Camping for Peace in Vicenza, Italy]
Vicenza (pronounced Vichenza) is an inland city of the wealthy Veneto region in the Northeast part of Italy located about 25 miles west of Venice. Vicenza is a UNESCO heritage site because of its historical monuments and artistic landmarks, most notably of architect Andrea Palladio, and the city is often frequented by some of the richest and most powerful families of Italy's ruling class elite. The current Mayor, Enrico Hullweck, had Silvio Berlusconi as the best man at his wedding in 2003 and is a part of the Billionaire's Forza Italia political party. The extreme right-wing political party Lega Nord, which is currently organizing an anti-Islamic rally called “Maiale (Pig) Day”, finds support here, and the shameful powerbrokers of the center-left have their share of vacation homes and villas in the city and the surrounding countryside. Vicenza doesn't seem like the most likely place for a forceful, sustained and growing movement against U.S. imperialism and military expansion, but the proposed new base at Dal Molin Airport together with the presence of an existing U.S. military base have transformed this city into the frontlines of the growing European movement against the United States' continued and expanding military presence on the Continent and its criminal wars.
From September 6th to 16th the grassroots movement against the current U.S. base and the new base organized the No Dal Molin Festival, an international encampment that included direct actions, discussions, film screenings, concerts and more. The event hosted participants that included the Canadian writer, activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein and Palestinian writer and activist Mustafa Barghouti. The encampment was a resounding success despite the virtual media blackout by the mainstream Italian media leading up to Saturday's mass demonstration.
I arrived by train from Rome on Friday night as part of the U.S. Citizens for Peace and Justice, Roma contingent and was picked up from the station by volunteers who drove me into the No Dal Molin Festival campsite. On the way to the Festival we stopped by the “Presidio,” this is the permanent encampment that has been occupied around the clock since Romano Prodi announced on January 16 th that his center left government “does not oppose” the “expansion” of Vicenza's Ederle base. The Camp Ederle base currently hosts about 2,700 military personnel engaged on two fronts of America's eternal terror war in the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. If constructed the new base will serve to unite the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, described as “Europe's quick response fighting team” and currently split between Camp Ederle and bases in Germany at Schweinfert and Bamberg. The “Presidio” is comprised of a large tent with a meeting area and sleeping quarters. The No Dal Molin movement is organized through a democratic process that includes a number of committees and a large weekly meeting attended by between 200 and 300 citizens.
This movement erupted as Prodi's announcement came over the airwaves and television screens in January. Tens of thousands of Vincenzan's, or Vicentini as they are called here, poured into the streets to demonstrate their opposition. From there the movement has continued to grow. On February 17th, despite the governments warnings of violence and disruption from the newly arisen red brigades, over 300,000 people converged on Vicenza from throughout the country to join in solidarity with the Vicentini against the new base, against war and America's continued military footprints in Italy, growing always larger and bloodier.
After visiting the Presidio we continued on to the No Dal Molin Festival campsite, and what a sight to behold. Under the largest tent there was a pizzeria, kitchen and bar with seating for 3,000 people. The pizzeria was opened for dinner, while the large kitchen served breakfast and lunch as well. The bar served coffee, beer and a select red Vin No Dal Molin wine bottled as an ongoing fundraiser for the movement (Vino is the word for wine in Italian). A neighboring tent housed the projector and screen for films and was set up for panel discussions and debates. There were art installations, informational tables, and a large outdoor stage and area for concerts and speakers. The site was equipped with toilets and showers for the campers and visitors.
The encampment culminated with three days of direct action. On Thursday September 13th the activists, led by women and youth, converged on the city government in a loud and colorful march calling on an end to mayor Hullweck's reign and his undemocratic practices. The mayor has grown increasingly unpopular here and has decided not to run for another term in the next election. The marchers banged pots and pans, blew whistles and posted signs and banners throughout the city's historic center. Friday was a busy day, in the morning the No Dal Molin activists targeted the American Camp Ederle military base. They blocked the gates with large cement blocks and poured red paint on the driveways in a symbolic act of solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of innocent people who have lost their lives in America's war without end. Friday night, Francesco Rutelli, Italy's Cultural Minister and leader of the center-left ruling coalition came to town for an awards ceremony. After smugly announcing that the base expansion was a “done deal” and that “Italy was following though with its international commitments” he was heckled and whistled down by the throngs of demonstrators, following a talk on the square by Alex Zanotelli, Catholic priest and long time anti-war and ecological activist. Then Sabina Guzzanti, noted Italian comic, filmmaker and activist came to town for a screening of her latest film followed by a debate in which she invited members of the No Dal Molin movement to speak to their fellow citizens.
Saturday the 15th was the day of the largest action. The objective was to plant 150 trees on the site of the planned new base as a beginning of a public park and it was a great success. There was a festive and very positive spirit in the campground leading up to the march. The organizers managed to get everyone in order by about 10:30, only a half an hour late. There were two marches, one was leaving from the train station and the other from the campsite and we would meet in front of the Molin site. The march was led by the women of Vicenza and all others with trees to plant. An agreement had been reached with the public officials to allow 250 people to enter the site for the planting. The women sang beautiful songs for “peace and an end to all wars” and for the “planting of a future for the children of Vicenza”. The march was very colorful with banners, Italy's rainbow colored flag of peace, music and chants on an unseasonably warm and sunny day. The Americans from our group carried an American flag with a peace sign, and Stephanie and Maria planted trees while Michelle and I watched from outside the gates.
That same day, large demonstrations were planned in Washington D.C and the Presidio permanente exchanged solidarity statements with the ANSWER Coalition, which were read in Vicenza and DC.
While marching I met Franco Turigliatto, the only Italian senator in attendance. He was kicked out of Italy's Refounded Communist Party and scapegoated much like Ralph Nader after causing the short but dramatic fall of the Prodi Government with his vote against the continued funding of the war in Afghanistan. Much like in the United States, the center-left here does little if anything to differ itself from the center-right, they are even in the process of creating their own Democratic Party as a counter to Berlusconi's House of Freedom. Turigliatto is moving in his own direction and has growing grassroots support in Italy. We talked of the international support he received from the likes of Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky and Ken Loach and the need for more international unity.
The two marches converged at the gates of the Dal Molin airfield. The march from the station was led by a rambunctious group of middle and high school students, who took advantage of the opportunity to strike on their first Saturday back to school after the summer holidays (in Italy students attend school on Saturday's too). The No Dal Molin peace trees were planted and a giant rainbow peace flag unfurled with the chant of Parco Pubblico (Public Park). After an hour of the celebration like atmosphere we returned to the campsite for more good food, drink and music. Another week in this on-going movement over with a growing sense of international solidarity in the air! From Vicenza to London and from Washington to Nairobi let's continue to move.
Our Vicenza Dossier with links to articles, photos and videos.
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Our Eyes Wide Open Film Series is suspended; for further information click here.
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Copyright © 2007 Michael Leonardi All rights reserved.
U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome, Italy