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After an inspiring mass mobilization of people across Italy with demonstrations of all kinds: banner drops, critical mass bike rides, workshops, information booths, film screenings, use of the social networking and facebook, people running nude through the streets, flash mob die-ins, young people living confined in a giant rendition of a radioactive drum for over a month, and a door to door, neighbor to neighbor, person to person grassroots storm, the Italian people have won a historic vote against the forces of global capitalism and privatization to ban the construction of Nuclear Power plants now and forever, to keep or return Water resources to public ownership and to Prosecute the criminal behavior of political leaders — first and foremost Silvio Berlusconi.
Italians managed to overcome the daunting task of a quorum of 50 per cent + 1 of all Italian voters in the face of a mass media controlled by Berlusconi and a government that was encouraging voters to go to the beach instead of vote on the first weekend of summer vacation for Italian grade school, middle school and high school students. The quorum had not been reached for over a decade on any referendum. This time the Italian people responded with 57 per cent of the voters turning out to the polls, the highest on any referendum in over 20 years, and with the quorum being surpassed in every region of the country. 95 per cent of the voters have voted “SI” to say No as the Italian winds of change have grown to gale force.
The vote began on Sunday morning and by mid-day the results showed that only around 10 percent of voters had responded nationally. There was a frenzy of activity in every town and city, on the streets, in the coffee bars, in the town squares, on the beaches, everywhere! The proponents of the referendums threw all caution to the wind as they called to every passerby to go to the polls and not let this important opportunity to express our collective democratic voice pass by. This was an incredible mobilization that had a domino effect, as students, families and co-workers pushed one another to make the democratic process function for the people once and for all. Flags sprung up on balconies, stickers on the windows of busses and walls of the metros, with bicyclists up and down the coasts whistling and shouting to get out the vote. By 7 o’clock on Sunday the attendance at the polls was up to 30 per cent. The depression of the morning gave way to a nervous feeling that maybe it really was possible that the quorum could be reached. People went to the phones and text messages and continued to hit the streets contacting and calling out to everyone to let them know that they could be that one vote to tip the scales.
The polls closed on Sunday at 10 o’clock and by that time voter turnout was reported at 41 per cent, the quorum was well within reach. 25 towns and cities out of over 8000 had already reached the quorum and the predictions were that the last 10 per cent could be reached on Monday. Being so dominated by the Catholic church, the word miracle started to spring forth from people’s lips as a nervous and incredulous tension continued to build. The government still had some tricks up its sleeve. It was rumored that they might not count the votes from Italians living abroad on the nuclear question. It was said that we needed to arrive to at least 52 or 53 per cent of the vote to ensure the Quorum and not just 50 per cent+1, would it be possible? Rome was in a stir of activity, and people there were convinced saying that they hadn’t felt this kind of energy in the streets since the student uprisings of 1968. In the region of Calabria, the only region that voted for Berlusconi’s right wing coalition in the municipal elections, the activists were more cynical. Would they be the downfall of the quorum for the country? While nationally the turnout was at 41 per cent Calabria was only at 30 and the tension was palpable. On Monday the Italian people responded and even in Calabria! We surpassed the 50 per cent + 1 and sailed to 57 per cent, overcoming any possibility that the votes from abroad could change the outcome.
Italy was overcome with joy. The leader of the Italian of Values Party Antonio Di Pietro, who launched the petition drives for the referendums on Nuclear Energy and Legitimate Impediment held a press conference to express his pride and contentment with the outcome of this historic vote, stating that “this was a victory of the Italian People and not of the Political Establishment,” and again calling for Berlusconi to resign from power. The hundreds of local committees and local, regional and national organizations erupted in celebrations in piazzas across the country. The main party was held in Rome and symbolically took place in front of the Roman monument known as the Bocca Della Verita’ / The Mouth of Truth.
While the national media reported the election results with the usual mouthpieces from Berlusconi’s government and the Opposition Democratic Party, the message from the piazzas and il popolo Italiano / the Italian people was clear, this was a victory of, by and for the people and not under the banner or any of the political party of the current political caste. As Marco Bersani of the organization ATTAC Italia said, “it is time to change the discourse in Italy. This was not a victory of any of the major political parties but should be recognized as a clear signal that Italians are fed up with the ineptitude of the political leadership in the country and are ready for direct democracy to confront the serious issues affecting the citizenry.”
This victory should not only be seen in the context of the Italian political landscape but also in its significance for the rest of Europe and the world. Italians have voted Yes to say no to the privatization of water resources. Many of Italy’s water resources are already poorly managed by multinational corporations and now Italians have decided that water as a primary resource should be controlled and managed publicly. Yesterday at Napoli’s celebration rally, the renegade Italian priest Alex Zanotelli reiterated that “all life comes from water, water is the mother of our existence and it must not be the multinationals that decide how it should be managed and distributed, but the people of the world. We must join together to build human relationships and to create a network of direct democracy to protect Water and other public goods from exploitation.” The Italian decision to say no to the privatization of water is an challenge to the European parliament, the G8 and the IMF that are threatening the privatization of all public resources in the face of the growing debt crisis facing the Global Economy. Italy now stands alone as the first European country to take this step against the forces of privatization.
Italy’s decision to ban the production of nuclear energy is a signal to the nuclear industry that its time of disastrous profiteering at the expense of our and our children’s future is coming to an end. Italians are now calling for a democratic and just national energy plan that puts renewable energy first. The mass movement of citizens is tired of the business as usual politics dominated by the energy giants and the pressure from the U.S. government to become a nuclearized nation. The people are demanding a diffuse and safe energy production plan that utilizes the abundant sunshine and winds for which Italy is noted and that can help provide thousands of needed jobs for young people left out of the economic shell game dominated by the corrupt business class.
Italians have also decided that elected politicians should not be protected from prosecution while in office and that the law should be applied equally for everyone. This vote eliminates the Berlusconi government’s decree called Legitimate Impediment which allowed office holders, and especially Berlusconi himself, to be excused from appearing in court.
The winds of change are blowing strongly now in Italy and there is a renewed hope and belief that another world really is possible. Let’s hope that the people of the world take inspiration from this new dawn in Italy and join in this global struggle against privatization, nuclear energy and government corruption. Here the people realize that despite this historic victory, the struggle has only just begun.
Michael Leonardi splits his time between Ohio and Italy. He can be reached at email@example.com.