The green laser beam projected by Greenpeace on Saint Peter’s Dome stated “Planet Earth first.” Three pacifists of the No War network were detained for trying to open a banner in front of the procession of armored cars (one of them is a contributor to il manifesto, Marinella Correggia, who was handed an expulsion order; the Sinistra Italiana political party has requested a parliamentary inquiry on the case). A few dozen Americans living in Italy gathered in a square to sing ‘Imagine.’
This is the complete summary of the demonstrations in the capital on the day of Trump’s visit. On Thursday in Brussels, the next stop of the U.S. president’s tour after Rome, there were 10,000 against him. At home, in the U.S., the Democrats continue to protest against him through the streets. So what happened to the Italian pacifists and Democrats? It was something unthinkable until now: Doesn’t the Italian left have any desire to challenge a president who dropped “the mother of all bombs?”
The question did not arise out of nostalgia for the old “Yankee go home.” No one — especially after the Obama years — is an orphan of ”antiamerikanism.” But maybe orphans of the left, perhaps? No, says Lidia Menapace, a partisan and historical anti-military militant: “The fact is that Trump is not credible. We are all worried about what he’s doing, but this character is below any dialogue. It would be useless to get down to the street to shout at him.” But isn’t this omission of action proof that the Italian left is hopelessly grounded? The answer is succinct: “This is the usual, conditioned self-defeating reflex of the left.”
But this absence from the square didn’t sit well with the radical left. “Of course, last Saturday we had the splendid demonstration against the walls in Milan, and we are now concentrating against the G7 in Taormina. But it is useless to hide behind an organizational alibi: Allowing Trump to roam freely in Rome was a sign of political weakness,” reflected Giovanni Russo Spena, who after decades of pacifist battles, is today the great elder of the Rifondazione comunista party.
“We talked about it among ourselves,” he continued. “We have attempted to understand it. What happened is that we have started ‘from below,’ from the regions, and we have done that well. But the risk is that now the regions may become cages. Last Sunday, we had a beautiful and difficult march for the burning of three Roma girls in Centocelle. However, against Trump, we were not able to build mobilization.”
Luisa Morgantini is more discouraged. She is another ‘historian’ of the nonviolent movement, founder of the ‘Women in Black.’ In the 1980s, she hung a long banner against Reagan from the Colosseum. On Wednesday, she had the misfortune of being on home rest due to a health issue. But this is not the point. “We are divided, immersed in our own battles, as if we were inside closed boxes. We are for the 1,600 Palestinians on hunger strike, others for the Kurdish cause, others for other good causes. We are soured, broken up, unable to deal with our differences. It would take a deep revolution within ourselves.”
“What do you want from pacifists?” Giulio Marcon answers the question partially. Today, he is the Chamber leader of the Italian Left. He has come from disarmament movements. “Every time you miss an appointment, the same question comes up. The opposition to the rearmament madness is not measured by a missed square demonstration. We are few and are mobilized on a thousand fronts. On June 2, we will be in Rome, at Castel Sant’Angelo, against the military parade. And every day, we implement thousands of initiatives, large or small but all precious. Pacifism has become a more mature movement. We are neither powerless nor timid.”
According to Massimiliano Smeriglio, however, it is rather “a serious fact.” Today, he is part of “government” left, but in the past he was on the Roman barricades, taking beatings on demonstrations against Bush senior. “To have the populist, reactionary and racist champion visit Italy and not having organized different forms of protest should open a deep reflection for all the leftist movements, which are rancorous and committed every day to stigmatize the enemy on social media where the self rules.”
The absence Wednesday “testifies to the fragility of our content and our social roots. And the desire to fight and collide when needed. We must face this dramatic situation. The sooner we do it, with more humility and fewer slogans, the sooner we can get back on the road. And quickly, before we lose the connection with the real country. Let me be clear: In this situation no one is saved, neither radicals nor reformists.”
Because it must be stated that, in fact, the first ones missing from the square were the so-called “reformers,” the Italian Democrats, “brothers” of those Americans who fight in the U.S. against Trump. But nobody thought of the gesture of brotherhood: The Democratic Party, and its ‘base,’ are busy elsewhere. And anyway, they explain, “would we have embarrassed the president of the Gentiloni council, who met him at Villa Taverna?” And who should do it, maybe the 5 Star followers who think that Trump is a model of autarkic populism, anything but detestable and disputable?
Gad Lerner, a journalist and TV host for the Raitre network, deconstructs the others’ arguments step by step: “The left has not gone to the streets because it is dominated by provincialism. It has lost its internationalist dimension, engulfed by the psychodrama of its divisions, and it is not able to look up.”
He continued: “And it is also true that the international reference of the right is now Putin, not the American president. His role was reduced, despite everything. Although we saw him in Riyadh relying on dictators to defeat terrorism, we thought it is not our business. The left now does the same thing, even in the workers’ environment: It defends its own territory, its own factory, and cannot see beyond.”
Yet “I have no nostalgia of the old anti-imperialism, in fact,” he said. “The true anti-Trump manifestation was held last Saturday in Milan: Milan a cosmopolitan metropolis. Half of the huge parade was composed of immigrants, with or without permits. The true stars were the communities, Filipinos, Chinese, Ecuadorian, African. They spoke to a whole metropolis, even a left already innervated in its future soul.”
And maybe then, it was really better this way, avoiding the rite of the “antiamerikana” square, at the risk of the usual muscular challenges between police and activists. Because “Trump is no longer the world’s policeman,” he said. “We have many European Trumps to fight against. And in Milan, we gave an initial positive response.”