Palermo Over the last 18 months Mouvi Palermo or the Palermo Movement has been active in pushing forward on issues to that would create a separate citizen force for change in the civic affairs of Sicily’s largest city of almost 1 million people. It was exciting to meet with 15 of their leaders for a number of hours and talk frankly about the problems of building mass organization and the challenges they now face.
The leadership were young, energetic, well organized, and deeply committed to a fuller citizen participation and a change in the usual way of Palermo’s governance. They had built a membership of 700 putting them in the first ranks of civic movements by taking action and capturing the imagination of Palermo with different tactics. Walking early in the morning around the very exciting Mercato Vucciria (Vucciria Market) I had noticed an outline drawn onto the cobblestones near the street, and had taken a picture, since I was curious. Meeting with the Muovi Palermo leaders, it turned out that I had stumbled on to one of the “promos” for the coming action next weekend when they had hundreds of people committed to lying down in the civic square, as if dead, where an outline would be drawn around them, and then rising in protest to make the point that the old ways were dead and with Muovi Palermo a new way was coming. The Facebook commitments to do the “lie in/die in” complete with mock coffin they are building down to “bury the old way” was already 600 people, so there’s no way to say they don’t have style and aren’t generating excitement in Palermo!
The challenges they face turned out to be as old as organizing. How to develop resources? Whether they could ask for dues and whether or not members would pay (yes, they will, but you have to ask!)? And, as they move forward on various issue campaigns now, they are ever mindful that the upcoming municipal elections in the Spring of 2012 pose a huge opportunity for them as well as some decisions that could mean life or death for the organization.
Muovi Palermo is non-partisan, but that’s not easy to be in the multi-party world of Sicilian politics. It also turns out that “movements” are allowed access to the ballot without party affiliation, which is a very interesting opportunity, though to have an opportunity to win, Muovi Palermo would have to assure that it’s candidate received at least 5% of the vote. It would be easy if they were able to consolidate with other movements and even parties to combine (or fuse, as we would say) their “lists” for the election, but many are tentative and protective at this point so uncertainty abounds. Are they too young, too small, and is it their time? Will the pieces fall in place closer to the election, if they keep pushing now? Should they concentrate more on Council seats and less around the Mayor’s race? These were the problems that used to move Saul Alinksy to advice community organizations to avoid politics, but these are exactly the problems that ACORN faced repeatedly that allowed us to build real power.
Muovi Palermo may be halfway around the world but it’s issues and challenges are as common as loose dogs and bad drainage. The only clear decision we made as the night moved on was that Muovi Palermo and ACORN International would create a partnership so that we could face the future together. That’s a clear path where both of us can be 100% certain of success, and I couldn’t be more excited!