Public Space in Palermo

Community Organizing International

P1010004Catania The four women from Palermo had been peppering me with questions throughout the organizing workshops.  Clearly they were up to something, so it was not surprising when they finally arranged to visit with me for a couple of hours to get advice on their campaign.   At the simplest they were trying to win the designation of public space in the historic district of central Palermo and shut down the square to vehicular traffic permanently to create a cultural and traditional public space.

They had created a committee of about 50 committed activists.  They had a Face Book site with about 500 of their friends and FB “friends.” They had won some initial skirmishes on this issue over the year or so of their fight by getting the City Councilors to move their dozen parking spaces from this area to another not far away.  The Greek Orthodox and one other church had agreed to support them, though other businesses in the area had not been won over.  They had done several public events including a whole series of things in the square one weekend when they had convinced the city to give them a shot.  They admitted that they had become media darlings and got very good press.

They had done a good job with great energy.  They had a huge amount going for them.   Unfortunately they had no real base.  This problem of activists with good ideas, looking for shortcuts in the naïveté that being “right” is enough to win, and not doing the work to create real organization or a wide and deep base, seems epidemic worldwide.

These women had gotten the religion though and were committed to building a base behind their effort.  They were also anything but naïve.  The city officials may not be taking them seriously yet, but with more discussion it became clear that their agenda is deeply political and rooted in an analysis that the city administration is dysfunctional and democratically corrupt.  With a big win in the middle of Palermo under their belt, each one of them could be dangerous, and with an organization someday, they could be powerful.