On Saturday there was a huge demonstration in Rome including marches and rallies against Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and many of his proposed (and actualized) austerity measures. I don’t pretend to understand much about Italian politics, but I do know that I have never witnessed anything like the demonstration that took place. The final rallying spot was Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano, which is essentially my front yard, so since I was home working most of the day, I got to witness a lot of the demonstration from my perch up on our balcony. There was a lot of concern in the media about the potential for violence at the demonstration, at a similar event last October rioting and destruction of property occurred, which created a sense of wariness about the proceedings, but thankfully this year, little to no disorderliness occurred. The city was certainly prepared though. All day leading up to the marching, traffic was suspended on the streets on the protest-route and in the streets in front of my house. Typically all day and night cars and motorini and busses fly down my street, but instead, it was empty and eerily quiet.
It was a fascinating exercise to witness. Despite coming from the states where our democracy is trumpeted to the skies, I had never seen in-person such a large-scale demonstration by the people before. After hours of quiet, quiet, without any traffic noise, by mid afternoon I heard the regular noise of helicopters hovering overhead. The juxtaposition of the silence of the piazza and the thumping buzz of the helicopters created a sense of impending action, anticipation, excitement, and almost danger. Finally mid-afternoon I head what sounded like drums approaching, and chanting, amplified voices. The roar of the crowds progressively increased and sounded (though I can only imagine this) like an advancing army, or an incoming tidal wave. They were predicting 50,000 demonstrators, and the final tally was put in the “tens-of-thousands” by news sources, and I can believe it, because once the marchers arrived on the street adjacent to mine, all carrying flags and banners, they continued to stream by into the piazza for over forty-five minutes.
At first, concerned because of the violence at the demonstration last year and not at all encouraged by the police in riot-gear blocking the streets that exit the piazza, I just watched from my balcony. But when I noticed there were still elderly Romans and families with strollers walking by, I decided to really see what was going on, and descended into the piazza.
There were thousands and thousands of people. Mostly in red, because it was a leftist demonstration, supported by the socialist and communist parties here:
It’s hard to say if demonstrations like this achieve much other than catharsis for the demonstrators, but it was fascinating to see people take politics so seriously and personally and reminded me of the Occupy movement from last year. I can appreciate people using what they have, their voices and their marching feet, to try to change things for the better. I suppose it’s all we can do.