Commentary. Two conferences about the Lazio region, organized by a trade union and universities, discussed the regeneration of political life and work in the suburbs of Rome.

Regeneration of the left begins from the streets and the suburbs

I thought it would be useful to share news about two events that are positive because of the project underlying them. The first was a conference on the occasion of the creation of the new NGO Nuove Ri-generazioni (“New Re-generations”), originated by SPI (the pensioners’ branch of CGIL) and Fillea (the construction laborers’ branch of CGIL), and put together by Gaetano Sateriale, a former trade unionist and also former mayor of Ferrara. The name says it all: we need to repair and reinvent the way we live and work, and to do this we need to start again from the local territory, where its inhabitants must assume a decisive role.

It is a task to be entrusted first and foremost to the new “generation,” but also to the older one – the retired, in particular – who are still willing to do their part together with them to rejuvenate our way of doing politics, to rethink ourselves as the left, each in their own field but together.

Rediscovering the value of collective action is at the forefront of our to-do list, in order to counter the domination of the cardinal principle of the European Union treaties and “Western” values: competitiveness instead of collaboration (“I could do it all on my own”).

On the agenda of the conference was the foundation of the Lazio Nuove Ri-generazioni NGO, the election of a young retired architect, Linda Mosconi, as its president, and then two panel discussions: one on the status of efforts made for the creation of energy communities; the second on the political value of building new forms of organized democracy.

The protagonists were representatives of new organizations, connected (some of them) with Roman municipalities, many of whom are activists of informal youth groups that are increasingly taking over the Roman scene. (Among them, there were also the Quarticciolo comrades, with whom our Natura e Lavoro taskforce has been working for some time now). All in addition to the union militants, of course, who have the task of converting the skills needed to build new gigantic housing complexes (while soil cementification has reached a rate 64 hectares a day in Italy) into those needed for repurposing existing buildings, which don’t just need to be repaired, but their functions need to be reinvented to meet the many new needs of life.

The local territory focused on in the discussions was the great circle of the suburbs of Rome, the most politicized area of the capital. And it was quite interesting that in their conclusions, Ivan Pedretti, secretary of SPI, Alessandro Genovesi, secretary of Fillea, and Michele Azzolla, secretary of the Lazio CGIL, emphasized precisely the importance of this local commitment to restore the lifeblood of our democracy. (I am glad that Pedretti took up my mention of an innovative union experience of the early red 70s: the Zone Councils, offspring of the Factory Councils, a direction revived nowadays by Landini under the name of “street unions”).

A few days after this event, there was another, quite different but on the same theme: the conference promoted by two professors of urban planning from the Sapienza University of Rome and members of our task force, Eliana Cangelli and Carlo Cellamare (who has certainly earned his moniker as a “street urbanist”).

A similarly large attendance filled the Aula Magna of the Rectorate. The conference was titled “La periferia e/è Roma” (“The periphery and/is Rome”), with the two different connectors emphasizing the present state of affairs – the two are seen as two separate worlds – and how we should instead see the division between the area contained within the GRA ring road and the area outside it, where 800,000 people live, who hardly have anything in common as a group.

The same neighborhoods came up both in the debate at Sapienza and the Ri-generazione conference: Corviale, Tor Bellamonica, Malagrotta, the older San Basilio and Quarticciolo. Also discussed were areas from the suburbs of Naples, Bari, Milan and so on, because scholars from other Italian universities took part in the meeting and showcased their projects. They all took on the commitment to work in their respective geographical areas to gather, and support, those who are discovering their interest and taste for politics in this concrete collective activity, young people most of all. This has already given rise to a number of citizen mobilizations, although these are rarely classified as political.

Quite a few of these engaged people don’t go to vote, but not because they are apolitical: quite the contrary, it’s because most institutional politics does not represent them.

This, I believe, is the point from which we should start again: the interweaving of different actors who nevertheless have in common the awareness that participation arises when citizens are turned into protagonists. It brings me back to the valuable experiences I had in the Rome branch of the Italian Communist Party of the 1940s/50s, when we used to go to the suburbs to help in, and discover, the process by which the subjugated can be transformed into subjects, the prerequisite of political engagement.

I don’t write this out of nostalgia for the past. I’m mentioning it because I believe that organizing protests is essential, but not enough to fill the void that increasingly separates society from institutions unless new forms of direct democracy are consolidated.

I know that we need a party, which means we need a strategic project that will show where we can and should go. I know that, but what I am saying is that we won’t build the party we need by putting back together the pieces of the left that have been through many defeats already. In no way, shape or form is this a message to not go vote. I campaigned hard, and I am glad that among the awful results that emerged, my party, Sinistra Italiana, is now present in Parliament, a clear guiding light, albeit a small one, for the battle we must wage.

I have only tried to explain why I have no desire to take part in the present post-election debate on the destinies of the left: to accomplish one that actually helps anything, the process will have to be long, and the first step must be to acknowledge that we are not at just any point time, but at a transition point between eras – the crisis of capitalism – that could lead us to social barbarism, but also to the liberated world for which Karl Marx taught us to fight.

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