It was a popular, but not a populist, protest. A protest against the Lega and other fascists, with its heart firmly on the left. A diverse political, cultural and social mix of people who choose to become “sardines” because they are at a loss, having developed a profound disenchantment with all political parties, whether large, medium or small. An enormous march in Rome, but also a national event which has symbolically brought together the whole country.
Here, the desire to find oneself in community with others became an expression for an equally contagious desire for liberation from the suffocating propaganda of a right wing full of hatred and lies. Just a month after their first event in Bologna, named “6,000 Sardines against Salvini,” Saturday’s multi-partisan and multi-party demonstration at San Giovanni is the last in a long wave of mobilizations against those who “have been pulling the strings of our feelings for too long,” as the young men and women from Bologna have written in their beautiful manifesto.
In this document, they explain, in a simple and direct way, the need to give voice to a passionate rebellion against those who “have used lies and hatred on us for years, taking advantage of our good faith, our fears and our troubles, in order to steal our attention”—thus laying out in the open with full honesty the weaknesses and feelings of helplessness of those in the political area of the Democratic Party and of the left in general, which have been exploited by the right-wing nationalists to spread a thick dark cloud over the country, a web of threatening xenophobic and sexist messages against every voice that is different.
Thus it happened that the “sardines against Salvini” who met up for that one time event in Bologna later multiplied beyond all predictions, triggering a chain reaction, powerful and unexpected, which effectively countered and overwhelmed the violent propaganda coming from the ridiculous figure of the “one man” supposedly “in charge.”
It was not at all easy to win on the battlefield of communication, which today is both the main terrain of political warfare and the winning weapon of the right everywhere in the world.
The sardines from Bologna have succeeded in this difficult task so far, and we hope that by continuing to dip into the cold waters of Emilia Romagna, they will be able to deliver Salvini a sound defeat. Because, while this is an underground movement that serves as a wake-up call to the institutional left, there is no doubt that it also fatally undermines the doom-and-gloom preaching of the right.
This movement resembles no other: it was born “underground” (and is for this reason highly vulnerable), and gave a healthy shock to the country, all thanks to the proverbial four friends talking at a bar who acted as the spark that set it off. And to those who are asking what the actual “content” of their politics is, we should reply that these protests are themselves politics: a new kind of politics, one lead by kids following Greta’s call or of the women’s marches, all acting in a peaceful harmony of purpose—from the very young protesting against climate inaction to the feminists marching against violence, all the way to the “sardines” that are bringing all generations, from grandparents to grandchildren, out into the streets together.
This unexpected and baffling epidemic that has rekindled the flames of protest in a hundred cities across the Italian peninsula, without even the shadow of a centrally organized structure, is in no way usurping, but rather adding to, the political demands and struggles coming from the world of NGOs, volunteerism or the cultural world. At the march on Saturday, the national “face” of the sardines, Mattia Santori, speaking from an improvised microphone and on a stage that nobody could see, said that the main function of this movement—a movement of opinion—is to act as a link between the political world and civic engagement. He asked the politicians and the government to do their job well, and not on social media but in the institutions: which first of all means revoking Salvini’s security decrees, because “inclusion” is the watchword of the sardines above all else.
This movement is certainly not a political party, despite the polling-obsessed pundits who are already claiming they can weigh up its presumed strength at the polls. And it’s not even a “movement” as such, if not in the physical sense of “moving” people in the streets, filling the latter with what the organizers are calling flash mobs, spontaneous mobilizations, extemporaneous and impromptu events. It is as if the people as a democratic entity have just awakened from their slumber, casting aside the weight of a feeling of powerlessness and depression. They are giving us a priceless Christmas present: a shot of real positivity.
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