The Search for Community and the Hope for Organization in Southern Italy

the class today

the class today

Taranto       My second day as a “professor” at La Scuola di Bollenti Spirit, the School of Hot Spirits, we were set to dive into how to look at campaigns.  Roberto Covolo, the school’s director started with an exposition of some of the differences in the Italian understanding of “state” responsibility and reflections that he and some of the students had come to as they rehashed some of our first day of discussions of community organizing.  From the discussion his helpful chart illustrated, we were able to look more seriously at some of the changing focus on public and private targets by community organizations that had arisen in the cross currents of neoliberalism and devolution.  We were off to a powerful start!

Next thing you know we were planning a jobs campaign on ILVA, the giant Taranto, Italy steel mill with 11,000 workers.  The bigger they come, the harder they fall.  We actually found a lot of handles and a bounty of leverage points fairly quickly in the conversation, which got the hot spirits thinking just maybe this was all possible.

Next, they wanted to tackle a problem almost literally under their feet, the abandoned properties in “old town” Taranto.  Where once there had been a community of 20,000 people, perhaps now 500 families lived in this section of the city.  Houses had fallen down, been condemned as unsafe, and ended up in the hands of the municipality which lacked anywhere near the resources needed to rehabilitate the units.  The students told me that anyone could buy a unit for as little as 2000 euros, but it might take 70 to 100,000 euros to rehabilitate the properties, though no one seemed to know for certain.  I broke them into small groups to see what they might come up with, and they harnessed themselves to the task with interesting results.  They were getting this organizing thing, finally it seemed.

small groups

small groups

 

IMG_2507

Later in the afternoon, we visited a partner organization of sorts where I later learned some of them were likely to be assigned.  This huge building had also reverted to city control in the new town area of Taranto.  In a former life, it had been a workers’ center of sorts, located cheek to jowl with the naval facilities.  This had also been the site of the Occupy encampment in the city, and continued to operate as an informal youth center of sorts with the tacit consent of the city but no resources including electricity and so forth.

Talking to the various groups in the afternoon that had come to visit with us in the space we could all easily hear the same refrain we had heard earlier in the workshops from the students themselves.  There were many lost communities.  One woman, when asked what she expected from the meeting, essentially said that she hoped to find “allies.”  She lived in an abutting neighborhood and had not been in the space since she was a small child with her father picking up presents being given for Christmas by the workers.  The young people in the group still occupying the site were searching for the same thing without much sense of how to find people and with some estrangement from organization even though they were also looking for the “tools” to build organization. 

students milling around the cocina, being opened for the area as a social enterprise

students milling around the cocina, being opened for the area as a
social enterprise

 

The school and many of its projects were experiments and innovations.  The students were exciting and excitable, talented seekers hoping to make contributions and create real change for themselves.  Over and over though it was impossible not to hear the search for community where people now felt a void and to hear and see the hope for organization expressed in so many ways.  The students have another exciting 6-7 weeks to go in the school.  For my part, I’m going to have to figure out how to act on what I’ve heard in southern Italy and see if there isn’t a way to deliver something in real demand:  community organization!

 

IMG_2536

the meeting with other groups in the officine tarantine space

the meeting with other groups in the officine tarantine space

 

welcome to the port of taranto

welcome to the port of taranto

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

ExFadda, a Model Social Enterprise Incubator for Youth in Puglia, Italy

ExFadda, the old winery owned by General Faddas

ExFadda, the old winery owned by General Faddas

Taranto, Italy     After flying from New Orleans to Houston to Newark to Munich to Bari, Italy over an 18-hour period, there’s no sense in lying, I was beat up a bit when we coasted into the small airport at Bari along the Adriatic Sea.  Nonetheless, I was intrigued with the sense of place and whimsy that led the city worthies to build the airport terminal as an architectural replica of a cruise ship.  We walked from the plane to the main building looking through portholes.  I kind of liked this whole scene, but maybe I was delirious.

Somehow the plans had been unclear about how I was getting from Bari to Taranto where the workshops were scheduled, so when I broke through the customs door, I was looking for a driver with a sign in his hand with my name on it.  Instead, I was met by Roberto Covolo, who had organized La Scuola di Bollenti Spiriti, the School of Hot Spirits, where I would be doing the training, along with a teacher from the school and a fascinating friend who had been dragooned into translating.  They were so upbeat, that the day immediately took a turn from “dragging wagon” to “ready for whatever.”  It might have been their “hot spirits!”

            They asked me if I wanted to go by a town called San Vito dei Normanni where they had been developing a bunch of social enterprises.  I said, sure!  They also mentioned stopping for lunch somewhere before Taranto, and I said sure to that as well, and that would work before I probably had to have a nap.

            An hour later, I was in for a series of surprises, and real treats.  We stopped at an old brick winery Roberto was managing that had been owned by a former general with Fadda in his name, hence the name for the operation was, very straightforwardly, ExFadda.  Roberto was quite the impresario.  First we had a cup of coffee at a little coffee bar that was in one of the out buildings.  Make my espresso a double!

Center Hall at ExFadda

Center Hall at ExFadda

            Then he asked if I wanted to see the space inside.  I imagined a beat down warehouse, but this was a well-done warren of spaces built out by various groups of young people.  We saw something on the way to being an internet radio.  We went into XFoto, a photography co-op.  We looked at the Dance and yoga cooperative space as well.   The head of the World Music Academy posed for me re-enacting a picture of him helping build the practice rooms and other spaces in their area.  Later we also saw the top-of-the-line kitchen and, you know where this is going by now, had a 3 hour plus million course Italian family meal with the wonderful Spera clan at Xfood, also not surprisingly, is what they call the restaurant, which also hires the disabled.  Outside there was a big garden and yet more grounds for a farm in the making which already had a couple of ducks and a goose there too.

Roberto Covolo and others in the XFoto space

Roberto Covolo and others in the XFoto space

The head of the World  Music Academy reenacting a picture of himself building the space

The head of the World Music Academy reenacting a picture of himself building the space

            Is it all sustainable?  Who knows at this point?  It’s all too new to know, and it represents a huge investment of capital and vision by the state.  Most of the front end cost was provided by the pretty progressive state government in Puglia which is desperately trying to fashion some real programs to hold on to and motivate youth between 18-30, and has embraced Roberto’s work since 2007 enthusiastically and is proud of the recognition and awards the effort is garnering from various observers in the European Union.

            As always, whenever I go to help people learn more about community organizing, if I can keep my eyes – and my mind – open, I am always rewarded by getting to learn more than I might ever hope to be able to teach.

the yoga and dance space

the yoga and dance space

 

a collective mural

a collective mural

 

the social enterprise restaurant

the social enterprise restaurant

 

the top-grade kitchen for Xfood

the top-grade kitchen for Xfood

 

the farm in the making

the farm in the making

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail