Catania Sicily is a puzzle to me. I keep coming back, because we always seem right on the verge of breaking through to be able to start ACORN organizing here, but can’t seem to get all the way through the door. Usually the problem is money, and money is a huge problem in Sicily for everyone. Or, even if we ignored the resources problem, there’s no one to really follow through to drag everyone to the next step. I had set my mind though: this time was going to be different. We were going crash through the door somehow or another.
Arriving at midnight from Tunis, we were dragging our wagons to the presentation at the University of Catania which would feature a clip of “The Organizer” on the ACORN response to Katrina in New Orleans and discussion and debate around disaster preparation and response for lower income communities. Later in the evening there was a full-on showing of the documentary with questions-and-answers in Paterno in the Simeto Valley region not far away where I had worked and visited several times over the last fifteen years.
The questions in both places were excellent and to the point, showing a close watching of the documentary and listening to the presentations, but it struck me around the middle of the question period that night in Paterno that there were other reasons that I loved Sicily besides the amazing opportunity it represented and the demand for action that seemed to constantly cry out to me on a special aural wavelength. How can I say this well? They really, really like me in Sicily! Of course, it’s not just me, it’s the whole idea of ACORN and the notion that you can take their continual commitment to civic action whether it means standing up to corruption and the Mafia, the literal real-life Mafia, or stopping a waste incinerator from being built, or electing reform slates to city government. But, I get to be the vessel that a lot of this organizing love pours into. Every question without fail was prefaced with thanks for ACORN’s work and even my role in it all. One questioner after another would reference a workshop I had run on community organizing fifteen years ago and how much it meant to their work or a meeting in the middle of Sicily they had attended or some other session in Catania at a church or Paterno in an election training.
Normally, as an organizer, I’ve got to duck and cover to avoid in-coming. Or, make sure to spit out too much sugar being put in my coffee. Flattery is an addictive drug that must be avoided at all costs, because it obscures an organizer’s judgement and the ability to listen clearly for what lies underneath and grab reality. No matter how hard the question that follows the preface, darned if Sicilians don’t seem totally sincere. I find myself wiping off the sweetness so it doesn’t stick to me, but finding at the same time that it works in another way when it gets into my bloodstream. It makes me even more committed to seeing organizing happen here, because I guess I want to see ACORN earn their praise by doing the work on the ground that it is already getting for work far from this island that sometimes calls itself the Appalachia of Italy.