If every good story is built around the hero’s journey, the hero of this 5 Star Movement campaign has to be Luigi Di Maio.
Piazza del Popolo is not very full, people are occupying just over half of the available space, but optimism is in the air. They expect great things from their leader and from the upcoming elections. This hero’s journey, they explain, was over 30,000 kilometers long. Now, on a stage reaching out toward the audience, a presidential lectern is waiting for him. The hero looks triumphant, and he even has a government ready.
“I have read the latest polls, and I can tell you that we are one step away from victory,” Di Maio proclaims, although he doesn’t say what exactly he means by “victory.” His main antagonists are the center-right, about which Beppe Grillo shows off the humor that made his name: “I’m voting for Berlusconi,” the founder of the 5 Star Movement announced, because “you know, I have a family, I have to save my marriage, I need a bigger house.”
Di Maio, on a more serious note, gives his view of the situation: “The center-left is out of the fight. We have never governed this country before, but we have a team of the right people in the right places. But they (the center-right) are instead spending their time arguing. On Sunday there will be a referendum.”
Before him, as sundown approached, Virginia Raggi spoke, the mayor of Rome and the one who organized the event. She was the one who had threatened to derail the whole 5 Star Movement with her missteps, and the first who experimented—after many reverses and much infighting—with a technocratic mode of governance. One might think her task here is to prepare the public for the arrival of a new government, but she doesn’t speak in institutional tones, and in fact uses ever harsher words than when she launched her own electoral assault on the mayor’s mansion a year and a half ago, in this very square.
“We must complete the journey we started here,” she says “we have only one chance, which will allow us to make history. We have to overturn the old and corrupt party system. It’s us against the whole mess.”
Alessandro Di Battista, in turn, speaks “for the last time” as a deputy: “We can win big, I feel there is a new climate now, not only for change, but for redemption.”
Di Maio’s own hero’s journey lasted two months, but one could say it began much earlier, five years ago, when, at the closing event of their 2013 campaign, the 5 Star Movement filled up a good part of Piazza San Giovanni. It was an unexpected success, which anticipated their big electoral result. Hundreds of young people showed up, waving their resume and demanding their place in a society that forced them into insecurity. “There’s nothing wrong with being populists!” they shouted from the stage. Now, five years and a full legislative term later, things are different, and Gianroberto Casaleggio is no more.
His son, Davide, takes the stage instead. Casaleggio’s online collaborative “operating system” for the 5 Star Movement, named “Rousseau,” seems to be playing a less and less central role in the affairs of the party, and the speaker stumbles into allegory when he compares it with Camillo Olivetti’s invention of the typewriter, painting a rather non-egalitarian picture of the Movement: “One man can change so many lives, and today we are, each of us, the keys of the typewriter.”
“Mom, don’t worry, I’m with the good guys,” a banner reads. The ubiquitous banner of “M5S Romania” also makes an appearance, which seemed a joke at first, but after years of constant presence at Movement gatherings has even ended up making some converts. A line has formed at the small pavilion that houses the machines for automatic donations to the Movement: just put in your money and get a receipt. They also accept credit and debit cards.
Then Di Maio comes up, and proclaims: “Tonight, our time in the opposition ends, and our time in government begins.”
He addressed the people of his own age group: “Don’t feel guilty if you can’t find a job: international investors are telling me there is no economic recovery.”
He announces the first legislative decree of his first government: “We will cut the salaries of Parliament members in half and cut €30 billion in waste. It only takes 20 minutes to do it.”
It is just one step from the 5 Star Movement’s position of giving back half of their salary as parliamentarians to enacting massive cuts for all, and the line gets applause. Then, Di Maio goes on to read what aims to be a generation-defining document, about his own generation, which tells of young people who thought they were living in a perfect world, but which is now crumbling. Their aim was to find a job and start a family, and yet all this has become impossible. That’s why they are claiming the right to lead a change.
Di Maio’s version of history makes no mention of the Genoa G8 Summit protests in 2001, of the wave of student protests, or of any of the struggles of these past 20 years. There is only a normality that needs to be restored: “Italy must adapt to a changed world.” The time has come to make one’s own way, as “natural selection demands it, this is the law of the evolution of species.”
Di Maio then follows up with a syncretic mash-up of words coming from very different ideologies: “We are the generation of ‘in spite of everything.’ We have the spirit of entrepreneurs and traders. We have adapted to uncertainty in a world where the 1 percent of the powerful get rich, on the backs of the remaining 99 percent.”
He mentions “transparency, competence and meritocracy,” and that “we want a state that shows solidarity, but a liberal one.”
He ends on a promise: “It will not all be smooth sailing, but no one will be left behind.”
Grillo is the last one to speak. “The only party that exists today in Italy is us,” he brags. “We have a leader, a program, elected representatives and an ideology. Now we can govern and do things.” When he says that “going out into the streets is perhaps a bit out of fashion,” some angry noises are heard from a part of the crowd; he replies: “Maybe one day we will do that again, but now we have to implement the points of our program. And remember: when we have the tools to organize a referendum every week in which you can vote from home, the 5 Star Movement could even dissolve itself.”
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