Getting Down to Business in Sicily

Organizer Training Organizing

            Catania           Working with the Catania University team of professors, instructors, post-docs, and PhD candidates, the dog-and-pony show about ACORN was done, the walking tour of San Berillo had been checked off, and the presentation and Q&A with interested people from their activist trainings and study groups had been completed as well, so it was time to get down to the serious business.  Could we build an ACORN organization here?  Where would we find the resources?  Who would step forward as organizers?  Which neighborhoods were our best prospects?  What were the nuts and bolts of putting together an organization?

We met early on a Saturday morning at Trame di Quartiere Cooperativa di Comunità in San Berillo, which had been our rallying and meeting point during this visit.  Trame is an interesting facility in its own right.  Since my last visit in 2019, there is now a working coffee and snack bar and more rooms have been opened up for different sized meetings.  We stretched out across a long table in the back of the building, away from the street noise.  In another bit of good fortune, as we dove into the prospects for organizing in Catania, a city of almost a half-million, we were joined for part of the time by two activists from Messina, who had bused over to see if they could also gain some insight on their issue.

I hate to digress, but that was interesting as well.  They were working in Messina, a city of about 240,000, not far from where the long-touted bridge is planned between Sicily and the rest of Italy.  In the name of economic development, the city and developers were proposing to build a convention center in the southern neighborhood on the dubious basis that “if we build it, people will come.”  Adding an extra degree to the preposterous assumption, the design renderings would have the building be in the shape of a dolphin.  Was this déjà vu?  Didn’t I see the same plan on San Padre Island near Brownsville, Texas more than 20 years ago?

A lot of our discussion focused on the concentrations of low-and-moderate income families living in Districts One and Six.  We looked at the overlap of the municipal and council structure and elections there and elsewhere, as we tried to image what it would take to move the organizing to some level of real power.  We then spent a lot of time on how an organizing drive was constructed, as well as how we would select and train organizers.

Finally, unable to avoid the subject any longer, we were forced to talk about how we would fund the organizing.  We realized that we had just missed a deadline that might have been perfect. Isn’t that always the way?  The sure thing is something we always seem to miss by inches and minutes, which usually means it was a long shot to begin with.  We talked about some EU grants that seemed perfect with much more liberal and expansive program and spending guidelines, but had one big problem:  we would have to spend money that we didn’t have for 18 months, before they would reimburse, us perhaps 20 months after the money was spent.  The EU, what a federation!

But what a productive trip this has been in the Netherlands and then in Sicily!  I had kidded by crew that all of their talk about swimming in the Mediterranean was pretty much just that – talk, because I had now been here a number of times and had seen no evidence of it.  All of this meant that I had inadvertently waved a red flag in front of the bulls, so our final meeting was near the city center, not far away on a cove where young and old were swimming off the seawall.

Next time I’ll bring more books and a swimming suit.