“We need to think of ourselves as a community, not as individuals,” says Ester Barel, 23, one of the national spokeswomen for Fridays For Future Italy. Behind her, at the Navigli in Milan, there is a large whale built of recycled material. The Italian movement has decided to skip the global climate strike and postpone the date by a few weeks to give itself time to spread the word among schools and universities.
In Italy, marches are scheduled for Friday, October 6, and this Friday there were only small protests in some cities. Milan was one of them: “It has been a difficult summer for our city: first the extreme heat, then the tornadoes,” Barel says.
Fridays For Future was born in 2018. That year, Greta Thunberg, then 15, started skipping school to protest in front of the Swedish Parliament. Her protest was the origin of the practice of the Friday strike. On September 15, 2019, the first global strike turned out to be a success. Somewhat surprisingly, Italy became the nation with the greatest turnout in the squares, along with Germany.
“A lot has changed since then. At that time, we ‘only’ wanted to be a megaphone for science,” says Giorgio de Girolamo, a 21-year-old activist from Tuscany. There are two events that activists mention as turning points in the history of Fridays For Future in Italy: the pandemic and the encounter with the workers at the former GKN plant in Campi Bisenzio. “The arrival of COVID displaced us,” explains Alice Franchi, a 23-year-old from Pistoia. “All of a sudden we could no longer take to the streets. But paradoxically, this gave us time to study. Our first real political platform was put together during the lockdown.”
The encounter with the workers of the former GKN also dates back to that period. When the owners decided to close the Florence plant to relocate production, the workers came together in a meeting and decided to occupy the factory and demand its reopening, under public control and with an ecological conversion plan. Against this backdrop, joint demonstrations with Fridays For Future began.
However, as the complexity of the political stand grew, the numbers of participants in the protests decreased. There used to be hundreds of thousands of protesters for each strike in the large cities, but today the numbers are in the tens of thousands at best. Accordingly, everyone we talked to describes the current phase as one of “experimentation.”
In May, at the last FFF national assembly held in Bari, the strategy to be adopted was discussed. Several lines of thought emerged – which “aren’t conflict,” Franchi is quick to point out, but “all have to be tried.” On the one hand, more disruptive and confrontational methods of protest – such as the occupation of the private jet runway attempted in Turin during the summer. On the other, there’s the pull of elections. The movement will definitely not show up to the polls as a political party, and a great many among the local groups are not at all interested in the electoral route. But part of Fridays For Future is thinking about it. The most advanced experiment in this regard is in Brescia, where a group of young people – largely from FFF – started the Brescia Attiva list, which elected city councilwoman Valentina Gastaldi.
“In 2019 we had a goal: to bring the climate issue to the top of the agenda. We don’t say this enough, but we achieved that goal. Now we need to bring the transition to its goal,” says Giovanni Mori from Brescia, a long-term spokesperson and popularizer of the movement. What is certain is that the FFF is facing many problems. First and foremost, participation, which is now steadily declining. Then there’s the issue of distribution. Local groups are widespread in large northern cities, but they are vanishing in the south and small towns. Finally, the matter of visibility. Other organizations and practices have caught the attention of the mainstream media, above all the civil disobedience of Last Generation. It seems like a whole era has passed since Greta Thunberg’s first strikes.