In Italy, apart from the more explicitly aggressive confrontations of yesterday, the student movement had already performed last month strategies of simultaneous occupation of key symbolical sites (Coliseum in Rome, the Tower in Pisa, The Mole in Turin and so on) not only producing symbolical opposition to government policies but also attracting praise for the creativity of such a protest, thus gaining important legitimation. Similarly, although from a different contexts, unemployed workers have staged occupations of abandoned jails (as in Sardinia’s Asinara island where a parody of the Island of Famous has been staged by the unemployed workers to sensibilise the public about their condition) or cranes, as has been the case of three ‘illegal’ immigrants in Brescia, who lasted 16 days in the cold and rainy weather and, at least for a fleeting moment, focused national attention to important questions of widespread corruption and exploitation in the bureaucratic procedures to gain permanent visas.
If these tactics will actually prove to be succesfull is yet to be seen. The education reform is going on, the immigrants aren’t likely to get their visa, nor the amnesty they were asking for, the workers are in into their 295th day in the island, coping with freezing temperatures and with no answers yet. However, keeping in mind the obvious point that traditional protests are not necessarily successful anyway, as Iraqi demos topically demonstrated, these strategies are relevant for at least three key reason:
1: They certainly increase the symbolic efficacy of the protest, adding layers of creativity, unexpectedness and endurance which are more likely to gain a more marked level media attention as well as piercing more deeply and for a longer period in the collective consciousness
2: This unexpected, creative and spectacular character is also likely to attract praise from public opinion and media, both as regards the inventiveness of protest as well as, as in the case of more ‘extreme’ acts, for bravery and endurance – as for the case of the immigrants in the crane, for instance.
3: They are much less exposed to risk of de-legitimation than mass demos. The dynamic, flexible, contained and improvised nature of these strategies, as well as the much smalled numbers of participants, makes them simultaneously more controllable by the participants and less controllable by government forces, thus making it much harder for the police, government, secrete services etc. to employ infiltrators with the task of provoking as well as justifying police repression and media stigmatisation. In Italy this is an especially problematic issue, as the ‘agents provocateurs’ strategy is routinely deployed to manage protests, since the most striking and ruthless instance of the 70s ‘Strategia della Tensione’ (Strategy of Tension) – when dramatic large scale bombings with tens of victims in squares, trains and buildings of major cities, for which initially left movements were accused, years later would be found to have been planned by secret services in collaboration with far right groups – but also in the more recent events in Genoa. After all the former prime minister and president of republic Francesco Cossiga, one year before dying, publicly suggested the current government to use such tactics which he ‘used so successfully’ in the 70s. Moreover, a small pack is at the same time less predictable and less ‘irrational’ than a large crowd, and strategies such as kettling are less likely to succeed in provoking tension – let alone the fact that such singular action of spectacular protest can be carried out simultaneously in different parts of the city, undermining the possibility of pre-planned and coherent action by police itself.
This is of course the optimistic side of it. Compared with classical mass demos, these strategies require more coordination, commitment and preparation, as well as skills and readiness to risk. However, for all the reason above, they certainly look a promising and fresh alternatives to the peaceful demo/violent clashes dichotomy.