Komen Retreat, Sicilian Shutdown, & Civics at Crossroads

Occupy Palermo in front of Opera House

Palermo   It was exciting to hear of the Komen retreat before the storm of opposition, web-rage twitter-storm, and plain and simple disgust expressed by women – and men – everywhere for their craven cave-in to Hate Nation and restoration of their funding to Planned Parenthood. The news went across the CNN screen in the Atlanta airport as we board to Italy. Quick calls confirmed the news. The money coming back is nice, but that was not the issue. The real victory is whether or not in this huge American divide the progressive forces and the huge population that peoples in simple fairness and common sense can come together to say, “enough!” Hard for me to believe this is more than temporary calm in the ongoing storm, but it feels good anyway.

In Palermo I asked my friends about the impact of the economic crisis and general austerity measures imposed upon Italy, and quickly learned that in Sicily just a week or so ago – to virtually no press attention – a strike by truckers and others had literally shut the entire island with roads blocked and fuel inaccessible. The strike had ended with no real resolution, simply a promise from the politicians to join the strikers in a trip to Rome to see what could be done. What power producing so little product?

All of which made the regional assembly of the Civic Movements of Sicily all the more interesting. I had been a last minute invitee when they learned I was expected in the country to address them on the lessons and potential of community organization for their movements. The civic movement associations are a new phenomena in Sicily only dating over the last two years. This was their second Sicily-wide assembly. About 100 delegates from more than 30 affiliates had come together to learn more and plan next steps. I realized after I had arrived that they were debating whether or not to encourage the creation of a parallel formation which would become directly involved in politics in order to force their issues more firmly in the public space and debate. Their debate virtually wrote my brief remarks and allowed me to share the history of civic associations in the United States from the Progressive Era and the goo-goo reformers to the more narrow, zoning-based, NIMBY focus that characterizes most of them now.

It was no surprise that this issue surfaced so quickly in Sicily. The multi-party rules of municipal elections allow slates or lists of candidates to be proposed by the dominant political parties, but also allow civic movements to propose their own lists, which, just like the party slates, can make their way to the ballot if they receive 5% or so of the vote in the primary election. Where there are civic association movements that have been gaining traction, some are already trying to navigate their way between alliances with the parties, their own autonomy, the ambitions and aspirations of their members and leaders, and many other forces.  In some ways allowing some level of “coordinated autonomy,” as I’ve always called it, where their affiliates would have the option to create double-breasted political arms, if necessary and able, seems inevitable if they are to grow and become powerful.

Walking through Palermo, I saw a number of “Eat the Rich” slogans on the wall for “Occupy Palermo” near Mercato Ballero. I wonder what is happening there as well.

It should be an interesting week in Sicily.

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