Reportage. On Saturday, an estimated quarter-million people took to the streets of Milan to call for inclusion, equality and poverty reduction.

250,000 flood Milan streets to protest racism in government

On Friday, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini delivered more of his usual propaganda: “Landings in the first two months of 2019: 262. During the same period a year ago, there were 5,247.” In opposition to the policies of the Lega-led government, the anti-racist march “People – Prima le persone” (“People first”) took place on Saturday afternoon in Milan. The even began in Via Palestro, from which the protesters marched to the Milan Cathedral. A flash mob was planned instead of a final rally. According to the organizers, the march drew a total of 250,000 people, a number far greater than the 100,000 the organizers were hoping for, which was the number of those who came together on May 20, 2017, for the “Insieme Senza Muri” (“Together Without Walls”) march.

“Starting with defending the right to migrate, we are fighting for the rights of the whole population,” said the organizers. Leading the march were children with their families, schools and associations that work with children. After them came representatives from the different expat communities in Italy and other groups, with over 900 nonprofit organizations, associations and cooperatives confirming their participation. “In Italy and in Europe, we need new social policies for employment, housing, women’s rights, education and the protection of persons with disabilities,” said the organizers in their manifesto. “We are fighting for radically different choices with regard to immigration, inclusion, reducing inequalities and poverty. We’re fighting for a Europe in which the thrust of neo-nationalism—which is putting up new barriers, fomenting violence and making migrants into a scapegoat—is defeated.”

Among the organizations sponsoring the march were ACLI, ANPI, Amnesty International, ARCI, Comunità di Sant’Egidio, Emergency, Libera, I Sentinelli and Terres des hommes. Among the many mentions of the event on social media, one recalled Alexander Langer’s warning from 1989: “As long as our industrialized and affluent, consumeristic and competitive civilization imposes its law of profit and expansion onto all nations, it is inevitable that the imbalances caused by it will push millions of people to seek their fortune—indeed, their very survival—in ‘our home,’ after we have made ‘their home’ into an unlivable place.”

While the Milanese came out in large numbers for the march, the Lega-ruled administration of the region distanced itself from the event. Regional Councilor Riccardo De Corato called the march “a carnival”: “The date chosen is suitable for the event: an early Shrove Saturday. How many foreigners still want Giuseppe Sala for mayor and Pierfrancesco Majorino for city councilor, especially in the suburbs?” Sala responded in a conciliatory tone: “It will not be an event directed against Salvini, it is rather a way to recall what I would like Milan to be. The city with a population of 19% immigrants is also the city that produces 10% of Italy’s GDP. It is hard to manage migratory flows; however, the Milanese need to feel solidarity.”

The driving force behind the initiative were the associations and third sector organizations who are working closely with migrant communities and the NGOs serving them. Mediterranea Saving Humans, the Italian platform of support for non-governmental organizations engaged in sea rescues, also put out a call to participate in Saturday’s march: “We’ll see you there with our float, for a country without discrimination, without walls, without barriers.”

The trade unions and parties of the center-left also had a strong presence at the event: Pierluigi Bersani, Nicola Zingaretti and Ricccardo Magi all took part. The governor of Tuscany, Enrico Rossi, posted on social media: “I’ll be there, thinking about the Constitution: an antifascist vaccine.” The mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, who hosted Sala in his city on Tuesday, said before the event that “[i]t will be very good if there are a hundred thousand people in Milan. This is the path on which we are all working together to build an Italy that is more united.”

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