Commentary. They’re talking about the survival of the species and the rights over one’s city, the model of development and forms of communal living against the savagery of the market.

While the right belittles them, the so-called ‘youth’ are fighting for survival

The writing is on the wall, and for once it’s something positive: some people up there in the halls of power are really scared of the young people. After years in which we’ve worried and wondered what would become of the generations that grew up after the great crisis of the left and during the interminable years-long dry spell for social movements, the right-wingers in parliament are here to remind us every day that they’re feeling the new generation breathing down their necks, a generation that is claiming spaces of freedom, that refuses to swallow the made-up split between social and civil rights and that is trying to claw back the shreds of its future.

The campaign against them has gone from a creeping advance to a daily drumbeat, and its starting point lay in the first measure approved by the first council of ministers headed by Giorgia Meloni: the anti-rave decree, with which the right wing that had been victorious at the polls proposed to deal with the age-old scourge of illegal parties that helped thousands of people to get together and escape from the troubles of everyday life. The fact that this issue was singled out as a priority in a country hit by the economic crisis and battered by the pandemic already spoke volumes about the belligerent intentions of the new government.

Now, not without some input from the opposition forces, our rulers have performed their very brave stands and denunciations against the Last Generation of boys and girls, guilty of the appalling crime of defacing monuments. Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano – who just the other day at the Turin Book Fair bragged that he owned no less than “15,000 books” (let’s be honest: how many actually well-read people do you know who know the exact number of the books stacked in their bookshelves?) – has, of course, called for harsher punishments against those who do violence to heritage. There’s a paradox here: for years, at the first hint of a protest, politicians, while ritually acknowledging the legitimacy of every opinion, constantly (and self-interestedly) urged protesters to use only peaceful means of protest – as if they were facing constant threats of violent revolution. Now they could claim to be satisfied, as for the first time we’re witnessing the actions of an entirely nonviolent movement: activists are now surrendering to the men in uniform with superhuman calm. But the politicians don’t like that either. Now that climate change is showing its apocalyptic face in our cities as well, the irrepressible Ignazio La Russa is urging those same young people who had been desperately raising the alarm about global warming to go shovel mud in Romagna, as if they weren’t doing that already.

What about the students camped out across half of Italy to denounce the dire condition of sky-high rents in university towns? For days now, there has been a glut of reactionary statements by politicians and pundits invoking the tropes of hard work and sacrifice. In this case, their idea is that a 20-year-old student claiming the right to live in the city they’re studying in is a spoiled brat, who needs to be taught a harsh lesson by life in a time of crisis. Columnists and parliamentarians, writing from their spacious balconies in the historical centers, all agree: the students have to go to the far suburbs, where prices are supposedly more affordable (which is not even true), or even to some neighboring town. Here it all comes full circle: after years of war against nightlife and handwringing about decorum, aimed at taming urban areas populated by young people (meaning: closing off public spaces to those who don’t pay), here is the definitive proof that according to them, city centers are to be understood as gated communities reserved for the wealthy, or theme parks intended for hit-and-run tourists. Just let the students live in the countryside, what’s the problem? Maybe, while they’re at it, let them take the opportunity to break their backs working in the fields, as per the appeal of Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida.

But there’s another newsflash that those in power aren’t getting, and it’s just as positive: only their shortsightedness can make them think that what’s coming up is nothing more than “generational” issues. The so-called “young people,” those who have become a target for the hate campaigns of older men ensconced at the tables of power, are mobilizing because they have had to bear fewer defeats and perhaps have more energy in their bodies. But they are raising questions common to all of us, that can hardly fit with the interpretation that it’s all teenage rebellion. They’re talking about the survival of the species and the rights over one’s city, the model of development and forms of communal living against the savagery of the market. This, in the age of the small and petty in power, is real “grown-up talk.”

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