Italy’s two decades-long protests against the Turin High Speed Rail Project became a symbol for grassroots protest. Italian students began anti-austerity protests against education budget cuts in the “Anomalous Wave” of 2008 and in 2010. They protested against university reform and the dim future faced by their “precarious generation.” They occupied monuments and blockaded streets and railways. Although students protested against austerity cuts for the previous three years, they didn’t have a movement like the Spanish Indignados. In October 2011 the students’ union called a national student strike, putting up tents in a square in Bologna. Like Spanish protesters, they were referred to as indignados. They weren’t able to camp in Rome’s Piazza San Giovanni on October 15, the global day of rage when 100,000 protesters gathered in Rome for a national march, because several hundred Black Bloc protesters initiated a violent riot there. The police weren’t able to protect the demonstrators.
Difficult to categorize, an Italian response to current troubles and austerity measures is the Five Stars Movement (M5S) in Italy, supported by anti-establishment young people who were ignored by the Democratic Party, called the unemployed “lost generation.”[i] The five stars are public water, ecological transportation, development, connectivity, and environmentalism, and anti-austerity and anti-corruption. The M5S mayor of Parma, age 39, rides a bicycle to work and the official car runs on natural gas. The young M5S parliamentary legislators came to work by public transport, one wanted childcare in the parliament building for her toddler, and they refused the plastic water bottles available to legislators as environmentally damaging. They advocated direct democracy, posting government debates on the Internet, and attacked corruption. They sought a national minimum monthly income of a thousand euros to be funded by reducing pensions and government salaries.
M5S founder Beppe Grillo’s blog is the most widely read in Italy, commenting on his mistrust of the political system, shaking up the old right-wing and left-wing factions. A critic, a high school teacher from Florence who doesn’t approve of M5S emailed, “You can’t rule by protesting only. They will hammer down what is left of Italy.” However, young (age 35 and 31) women M5S candidates were elected as mayor of Rome and Turin in June 2016, considered a setback for center-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. They campaigned on ending corruption.
The largest “General Uprising” occurred in Italy on October 19, 2013, to protest austerity cuts.[ii] About 100,000 people marched behind a banner reading “Only One Big Project: Income and Houses for Everyone.” Student groups, unions, and other groups, but not major unions or political parties, helped organize protests against evictions and against one-quarter of the population living in poverty. The goal is “only one big endeavor: housing and income for all,” universal benefits independent of wage earnings, with neoliberal capitalism as the common enemy. Large demonstrations joined students, workers, soccer fans, and other activist in Livorno in November 2014 to protest unemployment. (More on Italian youth activism on the book website).[iii] Italians also protested the government’s “Fertility Day” in 2016 to encourage procreation in the country with one of the lowest birth rates without the kind of social supports provided to French families with slogans like “Don’t let your sperm go up in smoke” over a photo of a man holding a cigarette.
A young Italian woman named Francesca, age 22, reported on the continuation of old sexist attitudes on the feminist bookclub Our Shared Shelf in Goodreads in 2016:
Women are still not supposed to sleep around, or smoke, or drink beer, or swear, or stay out too late. My best friends are all men and l am judged for hanging out with them without the presence of another woman. I still am judged for not being taken and I am just 22! Once I got the highest grade in an exam and a guy told me that was because I am pretty and the professor was a man. Do you know Samantha Cristoforetti? The first Italian woman in space? A brilliant pilot and engineer, who holds the record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight of a European astronaut? Would you believe me if I told you that all Italy could say about her was that a woman should never stay that long (199 days and 16 hours) away from her man and her (supposed) children? How can I not be a feminist?
In 2016, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said, “Stressing austerity means destroying Europe. Which is the only country which receives an advantage from this strategy? The one which exports the most: Germany.” [iv] Finance minister Pier Carlo Padoan added, “Austerity is out of the discussion in a way. We need to bring more growth and more jobs in Europe.” The Brexit vote in the UK also signaled the need for more government spending to deal with economic consequences of leaving the EU.
Students in Amsterdam in 2011 squatted the University of Amsterdam’s administrative building and the same space again in 2015 with support from staff and faculty.[v] These protests advocated more democracy at the universities rather than being run on a corporate model, as well as reducing tuition costs. The protesters experimented with self-governance and hung a banner calling for direct democracy. Amsterdam was also the home of one of the largest Occupy camps in the world, where the mayor visited to make suggestions about management, but demonstrators weren’t organized enough to last.[vi]
Portugal’s large demonstrations against austerity cuts in 2010 inspired neighboring Spain. In an anti-capitalist rally on May 1, some banks and luxury cars and stores were smashed or set on fire, by masked anarchists and others. (Photos available.[vii]) General strikes were organized in previous years to protest the unequal distribution of wealth and against political parties and unions. Inspired by Tahrir Square, on March 12, 2011, the “desperate generation” generated the largest public demonstration since the 1974 revolution with 300,000 protesters in the streets of Lisbon and other cities. They demonstrated to express solidarity with Spanish 15M protests in 2011 and 2012 and to support general strikes with labor unions. Youth activists published a “Manifesto of a Generation in Trouble.”
After the Arab Spring of 2011, over 200,000 young Portuguese activists demonstrated against austerity measures. Protests were rooted in austerity cuts designed by the Troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF. None of these groups are elected and the European Council is only indirectly elected while the Council’s president is unelected.[viii] As well as cuts in government social programs, wages fell and labor union agreements were violated, resulting in increased unemployment, underemployment, and homelessness. Unlike earlier protests led by unions, political parties or university students, the protests that began in 2011 were led by youth in general who utilized ICT to call on everyone to participate. They rejected the appointment of leaders or media spokespersons, disavowed political parties, and aimed for non-violence in their struggle for real democracy. The Internet facilitated the creation of a horizontal platform where anyone can be heard.
The Portuguese “Desperate Generation” organized 15O to occupy Lisbon’s Rossio Square and three other large city squares, beginning on May 20, 2011.[ix] Spanish young people in Lisbon started the occupation in front of the Spanish consulate, and then went to Rossio Square where they read the Spanish goals manifesto. About 38 activist groups joined in 15O using the Spanish terms indignado and the slogan Real Democracy Now! They posted a call for the “Portuguese Revolution” on Facebook. The 15-day protest was the first large protest against austerity cuts organized independently of unions because civil society was traditionally weak.
A song about the precarious generation of educated young people performed by the Portuguese band Deolinda at a large concert in Lisbon in January stoked the flames of rebellion. Similar to protests in other countries, demonstrators copied slogans and organizational forms such as assemblies with the intent on influencing their national politicians. However, Portuguese scholar Britta Baumgarten doesn’t believe that a single global social movement (defined by Sydney Tarrrow as “connected networks of challengers organized across national boundaries”) exists because there is no global organizing structure and protesters’ main goal was to influence their own governments. Most activists didn’t spend the night in the squares. They chanted slogans like “We consider ourselves Greek!” and “Spain! Greece! Ireland! Portugal! Our struggle is international!.” Sociologist Marisa Matias (born in 1976) is a member of Parliament’s Left Block and their unsuccessful candidate for president in 2016.
[i] “Europe’s Lost Generation Finds a Voice in the Five Star Movement,” Occupy.com, March 8, 2013.
[ii] Alfredo Massamauro, “Only One Project,” Geopolitical Monitor, January 20, 2014.
[iv] Peter Goodman, “Europe May Finally End Its Painful Embrace of Austerity,” New York Times, October 8, 2016.
[v] Donya Alinejad, “Dear Maagdenhuis, Can we Please Get Our Shit Together?”, Occupy Wall Street, March 27, 2015.
ROAR Collective, “Why We Occupy: LSE Students Mobilize for a Free University,” ROAR Magazine, March 18, 2015.
[vi] Justu Uitermark and Walter Nicholls, “How Local Networks Shape a Global Movement,” Social Movement Studies, Vol. 11, No. 4, July 17, 2012.
[viii] Leigh Phillips, “People and Power,” ROAR Magazine, January 21, 2016.
[ix] Britta Baumgarten, “Geracao a Rasca and Beyond,” Current Sociology, Vol. 61, No. 4, pp. 457-473.