Summer 2002

May Day in Milan

by Jason Martin

Check out the pictures of Mayday on the Italian Indymedia site:

Ive been in Italy about a month now. Yesterdays Mayday parade was enormous. How much of it will filter through the major media remains to be seen, of course, so let it be known that it was an impressive show of support. All sorts of people came out to participate. In Milan there were very few cops and it was peaceful as well as fun.

I have a perspective I'd like to share based on recent events and experiences out here.

We were invited out here as part of the multimedia arts and culture festival called "BIG Torino 2002: The Big Social Game", where we soon experienced some interesting forms of censorship. Check out the RtMark web site for the specifics. The site features a statement that was read at a press conference last Wednesday. Thats when things really came to a head regarding another project from Germany called "Everyone Is An Expert , which was disbanded. They were using a headline which spoke against Italy's prime minister. I suppose its arguable whether this is the best way to get the message across, but the controversy that ensued was ridiculous. Its a good example of censorship issues in the context of today, albeit on the smaller scale of an arts fest.

Something that frequently came up in debates on censorship: the center-left has little tolerance for anyone furthur left, and its implied that the far left will ruin the progress that has been made. Sound familiar? As a former Green Party candidate for Schenectady City Council in last November's election, it all sounded far too familiar.

This "center-left " can include former activists, and other progressives. The "far-left" can include anyone at all who questions any aspect of the established left's left-ness. Try and say that fast 10 times! This left vs. left is nothing new. But here in Italy, from an outsider's perspective, one gets to see it played out in some extreme ways. And one cant help but make analogies to events going on their own country.

Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is a media mogul who's now in power. His company owns at least half of the channels. The rest is state-owned television. Anyone without a satellite dish is screwed.

Some people employed in his circles were progressives in media through the 70's and early 80's. These people are familiar with the language and thought of the left, having once thought or spoken it themselves. Also, polarizing terms like fascist or communist have been overused here for decades. In circumstances like this, the very language of dissent or even debate has become marginalized. The mass media and its corporate supporters are doing a good job in reinforcing this at every turn.

This is a very tiny slice of the problem. However, this direct experience with this kind of censorship has caused me to re-think strategies back home. Despite the differences between Italian and American political and social structures, there are disturbing parallels. The obvious one being the similar career paths of people like Berlusconi and NYC Mayor Bloomberg.

Then our experience at the festival: an organization self-censoring to point of absurdity -out of fear of losing funding or being named in lawsuits. Then viewing those who disagree with the self censorship as trouble makers who dont understand the situation. Shutting down any discourse as quickly as possible. I had a chance to discuss this scenario with people from around the world at BIG Torino 2002. Many of the same stories were told, with only names and locations being the difference.

But there is a bright side. There is a change in the air here in Italy. A buzz. People are effectively working together: young people entering into the work force, older labor party leaders, collectives, large well-organized squats, white and blue collar workers, artists, professors, hacktivists...... This level of cohesiveness was seen as virtually impossible less than 10 years ago.

I'll stop before this gets too utopian, because it certainly is not: In this little essay , just now, I just glossed over many important issues upon which my Italian friends will no doubt correct me- wink wink - But I have a renewed hope. A better understanding of how people can create vibrant communities of all kinds. The stage is then set for all kinds of actions from having a great party to organizing with unions to shut down the trains for days (they did it!).

Over 'n Out,
- Jason Martin

JASON MARTIN is from Schenectady.