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"They are eight, we are 6 billion"

August 3, 2001 | Pages 8 and 9

David Zirin's diary of the protests
Ahmed Shawki analyzes the demonstrations
Carlo Giuliani's father speaks out in defense of his son
Berlusconi faces fury over Genoa attacks

PLENTY OF fine words flowed out of the 14th-century castle in Genoa, Italy, where the leaders of the world's most powerful countries met last month. The heads of state from the Group of Eight (G8) countries issued statements on everything from free trade to global warming.

But they sent their most important message a mile away--in a small square called the Piazza Alimonda. With two gunshots that killed Carlo Giuliani.

The message: Those who dare to disrupt their fancy gatherings in the struggle for global justice will pay a price.

But if Italy's right-wing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his G8 buddies think that they've intimidated us, they have another think coming.

On the day after Giuliani was gunned down, some 300,000 people took to the streets of Genoa in an extraordinary display of opposition to the G8 leaders and the system they preside over. This protest showed that those who care about global justice are more determined than ever that our voices will be heard.

To begin this special report, Socialist Worker's DAVID ZIRIN, who was in Italy for the Genoa protests, describes what he saw.

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AS WE enter Genoa, a city of mountains by the sea, there is underwear hanging from countless windows.

This, believe it or not, is a sign of the resistance. Billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, the new prime minister of Italy, decreed that no one in Genoa should hang underwear outside--so that other world leaders wouldn't view Italy as a "backwater." When people can't even hang their underwear outside, you know the weekend will be something we won't forget.

Thursday, July 19

AS MILITARY helicopters fly overhead and barricades cut the city into pieces, the eerie calm that has hung over Genoa is punctured by a march of 50,000 people from Europe and beyond, in the name of immigrant rights. More than a march, it's a festival of resistance.

Every contingent chants in a different language. Marching bands play "Hey, big spender." A Swedish group is clapping and singing the Southern Black spiritual "This little light of mine."

The feelings of solidarity and unity are overwhelming. Rosalie, an African-Italian trade unionist, says, "I'm here as an immigrant, but we have the right to cross borders however we please, just like their money."

A small group from Eritrea and Ethiopia march arm in arm. "Why should these eight people make decisions for the rest of the world?" they say. "Why did they have to close the city? They try to divide us, like they divide the city!" They walk away chanting the slogan of the day: "We are all illegals."

This anger, not just about the issues of the summit, but about what the summit has done to city of Genoa, is ever-present--as seen by the number of residents in the streets and waving from their windows.

Pietro, a lifelong Genoa resident, was so angry at the Berlusconi government that he grabbed a framed picture of former Socialist President and anti-Mussolini hero Silvio Pertini. "Pertini fought the fascists and wrote the constitution," he says. "Now we have to do both again."

As the demonstration ends, people are already talking about possible violence over the weekend. The news reports say: "Today was a festival, will tomorrow be a war?"

Friday, July 20

I'M SITTING in Carlini stadium at 9:30 a.m., one gathering place for the Friday direct actions to penetrate the heavily guarded red zone that surrounds the G8 summit. Carlini is filled with very young, very confident people.

The direct-action group Tute Bianche and others are on the stadium floor, making shields 10 feet high and wide. Many are wearing helmets and shoulder pads. All the "weapons" I see are defensive.

I ask one member of Tute Bianche what he thinks will happen today. He tells me that he thinks police attacks on protesters in Gothenburg, Sweden, during last month's European Union summit, backfired. "People are more together, and the numbers are greater," he says. "My prediction is that nothing will be the same after Genoa."

Some 20,000 to 30,000 of us march arm in arm toward the red zone, with Tute Bianche in the lead. As we sing and chant, we see huge plumes of smoke rise in the distance. We learn that street fighting with police has been widespread since the early morning. The smoke to our sides comes from burning cars. The thick smoke directly in front of us is the tear gas. Masks and bandanas are immediately distributed.

All kinds of rumors are spreading about the fighting in front of us--which is impossible to see because of the narrow streets and the gas. A member of our contingent runs forward 150 yards--and brings back news.

"The front attempted to penetrate the red zone, and all hell broke loose," he says. "There was hand-to-hand combat where the police were beating people down with batons. The police seemed reckless. They laid into people and found a resistance that I don't think they expected. People fought back hard, so very hard."

At one point, a demonstrator tries to break a store window. This was the only store on the direct-action march route that had stayed open that day. Its elderly owner had been standing outside the shop, watching us with a smile. The young demonstrator tries to break the window with his fist, then picks up a rock.

About 12 demonstrators form a chain to protect the store--and physically push the young man away. As one veteran Italian leftist remarks, "That's how our movement should settle its questions--internally."

At 5:30, as we march back, the chant "Assassini!" suddenly rises up like a wave, from the front to back. We hear that a young man was killed--perhaps 150 yards in front of us--by the police. We know no details at this point, but people are shaking and unsure of what this will mean for the mass demonstration tomorrow.

Saturday, July 21

THE NEWS is now clear, and the Reuters picture is all over the world. Carlo Giuliani, a 23-year-old from Rome, was shot twice in the head and run over by a military van. The headline on Berlusconi's newspaper says this was "in self-defense."

But every other Italian paper shows frame by frame how an officer in a police vehicle surrounded by street fighters executed this young man. He is the first person to be killed at an Italian protest in 24 years. If the first day of protest was striking by its absence of police, today is like a war zone.

On a hill overlooking us as we gather for the legal demonstration are about 15 police officers in a military formation. Some are in a sniper's pose. We break into a chant of "Assassini!" and point at them.

One of them fires a tear gas canister about 10 feet over our heads. It is an early notice that anyone who thought the police would be restrained after yesterday was wrong.

It's immediately clear that we are far greater than the 120,000 hoped for by march organizers. Later estimates will show that the march's numbers were more than 300,000.

Yesterday's killing is on everyone's mind. "Berlusconi Assassino!" is the loudest chant of the day. People are fearful, but confident that the police wouldn't dare attack such a large contingent.

We hear that the unions--which were supposed to make up the bulk of this march--didn't show. The tens of thousands--if not hundreds of thousands--of unexpected marchers are largely young people from Italy, streaming up and down the sides of the organized contingents.

As the march makes its first turn away from the red zone, a section of the group moves forward toward the massive line of police. The booms and tear gas return. The people of Genoa show their solidarity by sending water down to the street in buckets and hoses.

A huge bedsheet hangs from a window. It reads, "Welcome to Genoa, citizens of the world. Always toward victory." For a long moment, we feel the slogan of the weekend, which adorns almost every T-shirt and sticker in Genoa: "They are eight, we are 6 billion."

As the march ends, the tension still hangs in the heat. People start to leave--and the police attack. They don't go after the street fighters--the masked and padded fighters near the red zone--but about 30,000 peaceful protesters who are leaving town.

The police later raid the headquarters of the march organizers, the Genoa Social Forum, arresting more than 90 people and putting dozens in the hospital. According to later radio reports, jailed demonstrators are forced down on their knees and told to chant, "Long Live Mussolini."

The right to protest itself has been criminalized. There's no question that the three days in Genoa raised the stakes for the global justice movement. The leaders of the G8 bloodied their hands on Friday, and on Saturday, they clearly came back for more.

We need to expand our forces, deepen our trust, strengthen our unity--and be confident that a better future lies on our side of the barricades, not theirs.

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"A new milestone for our movement"

AHMED SHAWKI, editor of the International Socialist Review, gave an eyewitness account of the Genoa demonstrations at a meeting in Chicago. Here, we reprint a brief excerpt.

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GENOA WAS a milestone for the global justice movement--in its size, in its enthusiasm and in the clarity of what many hundreds and thousands of people were out demonstrating against.

Whether it was an individual question that they addressed or a host of questions, there was an understanding of the need for solidarity and common work.

It was also a milestone in representing the crystallization of a policy of criminalizing protest. The killing of Carlo Giuliani exemplified the violence of the weekend--violence that was orchestrated and organized by Silvio Berlusconi, but which was approved of by all the G8 leaders.

What happened in Genoa reflects an international phenomenon--the decision by those who rule this system that they won't tolerate dissent.

But another dynamic occurred--as some people pulled out of the demonstrations, many more poured in. I think the spark was the deliberate decision to criminalize protests. People were, indeed, worried about what would happen to them in Genoa. But they nevertheless arrived in large numbers.

I think the closest equivalent for us is for anybody who went through the 1960s--who watched the fire hosing and the brutality, but said, "It is right to protest, and I will find a way to make my views clear."

It's undoubtedly the case that the Italian police used systematic provocation--and that at least some of the people who were involved in the trashing of shops or assaults on other protesters were in fact police provocateurs.

But there were others who, I would say, behaved as unconscious agents--who believe that their anger, individually expressed, can lead the movement forward, but whose tactics gave police an excuse to crack down.

When individuals try to impose their tactics on the movement as a whole, the movement has to discuss that question of how we can collectively achieve our aim. But we'll deal with the issue ourselves.

We're now faced with a decision on the part of those who run the system that they'll respond violently against our movement. We can't go around blindly talking about doing our own thing and expect that there won't be a price to pay.

They've set the price--and we have to come up with an answer. We're for building a movement that determines its own future, builds its own organization and imposes its own democracy.

Genoa isn't the end of the road. The organizing--in particular in Italy, but internationally--since Genoa is extremely important. This is a live question, and we have to hold each and every one of the G8 leaders responsible.

One of the things that was impressive about Genoa was the size. But it also has to be said that the trade unions failed to mobilize. The movement needs to try to win over ordinary working-class men and women to its ranks--people who aren't immediately organized in activist circles, but whose lives are affected by the decisions that the G8 leaders make.

In the demonstrations that we build in the future, the linking of the antiglobalization movement and the daily concerns of ordinary working-class men and women becomes increasingly important. It not only gives us bigger numbers, but it raises the question of social change--which, at the end of the day, is what's really been put on the agenda.

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"He protested for his ideas"

WITHIN HOURS of Carlo Giuliani's murder, the mainstream media went into action to slander him. The 23-year-old protester was dismissed as a "troubled" outsider with a serious criminal record.

In this statement, Carlo's father Giuliano--an official of the CGIL, the large union federation affiliated with the Democratic Left, the former Communist Party--spoke out in defense of his son.

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Carlo was the exact opposite of what people have written about him. He was a boy of great generosity who was opposed to injustice. He read, he studied, he discussed, and he protested for his ideas. He always cared about others.

And he always worked, if irregularly. He worked in the jobs that all young people are forced to take--in the black economy, without any security, without any rights. The press said he had a criminal record. When he was 17, the police misidentified him as a criminal...But the judges laughed the case out of court and cleared him of the charges.

Carlo didn't accept the notion that eight leaders of the world should decide the life and death of hundreds of thousands of people. Here in Genoa, you do not need to go far to see the victims of their policies. Come back after the G8 have gone, and you will see the desperation of those who are left in hunger, those who are forced to flee their own countries to settle here, forced to survive without any dignity in the alleyways that surround the harbor.

On Friday's demonstration, Carlo wore a balaclava (hooded scarf), yes. But you cannot equate the throwing of a fire extinguisher with a gunshot to the head.

In some ways, we didn't understand each other. I am a member of the Democratic Left [the former Communist Party]. Well I was-our branch has been closed for months.

There won't be his liveliness in our house anymore. We won't have his jokes about football. And we won't have our political discussions anymore. But maybe now is the time for new people to open up new branches so we can carry on discussing.

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Berlusconi faces fury over Genoa attacks

THE KILLING of Carlo Giuliani and the Italian government's savage repression in Genoa sparked anger and protests across the country. On July 24, the night before Carlo's funeral, an estimated 250,000 people attended demonstrations across Italy.

News reports described columns of protesters marching through snarled rush-hour traffic to get to rallies. The largest was in Rome, where at least 50,000 people spilled out of the central Piazza Venezia and into surrounding streets. Grim-faced young protesters, who had pasted targets to their heads, chanted "Assassins!" and "Shame!"

Tens of thousands turned out in other major cities like Genoa, Milan and Bolognia, but protests took place even in conservative areas--like the southern city of Palermo, the base of the fascist party that is part of Silvio Berlusconi's governing coalition, where 3,000 people demonstrated.

The pressure has put the Berlusconi government on the defensive. Italian members of parliament are calling for the resignation of Interior Minister Claudio Scajola.

In what newspapers described as a nervous address to parliament, Berlusconi promised that there would be no cover-up in the investigation into the violence in Genoa.

Berlusconi's first reign as prime minister was cut short in 1994 by mass demonstrations and strikes. After triumphing in elections just two months ago, his new government could be on the ropes already.

See a list of related stories about the Genoa protests

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