Passion and Process in Civic Movements

ACORN International

Paterno    After a long walk to the Palermo harbor and through the Mercato Ballero, I hauled my stuff over to the voting session of the regional assembly of the Sicilian civic movements.  Not surprisingly, it ran 2 ½ hours over the expected time.  One delegate proposed 25 amending resolutions to the frustration of some of the remaining hardy band making the decisions.  Interestingly from what I could tell there were few surprises in the voting, so the debate was more pro forma than impassioned.  The process moved methodically through to each vote and count of the green cards raised on the question.

Meeting later in the evening with the organizing committee of a newly formed civic movement in Paterno, a smaller city of 50,000 or so in the southern part of the island only about 15 minutes from Catania, there was more passion in the proceedings.  Hardly more than a few months old, this civic movement was ambitious in its aims to push an agenda and potentially a slate of candidates forward for the municipal elections only 3 months away.  They seemed to have come together in a “throw the bums out” movement where the call for change itself was more than enough motivation.   They were raw but ready.

My role in riding the rollercoaster was to provide technical advice on the questions of organizational formation and election mechanics.  Did they have lists of voters?  How do we get the lists?  How would people make contact?  How would the “rap” be constructed?  What would the role of house meetings, flyers, Internet, networks, and other tools be and would they be effective?  How could an outreach program work?  It was organizing and politics by immersion for them and for me occasionally marked by an outbreak of questions or impatience that was quite thrilling in its own way.

Were they biting off more than they could chew?  Without a doubt!  Could they succeed?  Perhaps.