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Italy's Siege of Palazzo Chigi: From the Top of the Police Wagon

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On October 19th, tens of thousands of Italians broke out into the streets to fight back against austerity measures. In the days following, housing rights activists amped up the occupation at Porta Pia, in Rome. In late October, they converged in anticipation of the toothless national housing policy degree set to come of the "State-Regions Roundtable," engaging in eviction defenses and occupations in different parts of the city.

In the early morning of October 31st, Rome's "Housing Struggle Movement" managed to block and postpone three evictions in different parts of the city, while similar initiatives of solidarity were carried out in the cities of Milan, Turin and others. In Cosenza a former monastery in the city’s downtown was occupied by needy families, and in Palermo homeless people, precarious workers and social centre activists camped outside the town hall, with the mayor nowhere to be seen. In Pisa, activists from the social movements occupied an abandoned cinema, staging a roundtable on the crisis and livestreaming the events in Rome.

The march started out in the central parliamentary square Piazza Montecitorio, heading towards the via stamperia building in which the State-Regions roundtable was taking place. Approaching police wagons were pelted with eggs, smoke bombs and various objects by the demonstrators, which rallied behind the big banner first revealed on October 19: “Only one great task: 'A house and income for everyone!'”.

The migrants, evicted and homeless people at the head of the march, then approached and confronted the heavily armed police forces in Via del Tritone, managing to push them back into their wagons. Relentlessly, demonstrators wearing V for Vendetta masks started to climb up the wagons, and the police reacted with truncheons and tear gases, some of the latter being thrown by an helicopter into the crowd's tail-end, which was packed with families and children.

After a brief retreat towards the famous Trevi fountain, withstanding noxious gases, the demonstrators advanced once more. When they again confronted the police in the narrow Via dei Crocifori, the agents of the State retreated. The march made way back to Piazza di Montecitorio, and there, after the arrest of 9 people, a permanent camp began.

Outrage on behalf of the many wounded and gassed people echoed across the web. The comments were strong: “Today, on October 31st, in Rome there is a group of armed thugs beating up homeless citizens”.... “(The police are) strong with the weak and doormats with the strong”.... “Police charge demonstrators, and the media are worried about the health of the police wagons”.... And so on.

But in fact, the main body of demonstrators’, as well as their own security "forces", never did falter against their opponents. They stood firm in demanding the release of their imprisoned comrades. Even after the government roundtable ended in useless soppy declarations completely deaf to the movements’ call for an immediate halt to evictions, a mellow mood of communion and comradeship ensued, breaking up the sense of alienation produced by the ongoing economic crisis.

As the Struggle continues, this movement is growing and cementing itself as the only true opposition to the Italian government of austerity and crisis. By breaking up those mournful, resigned past demonstration habits, with righteous rage and cunning self-organization, it can even manage to look down on power for a short while, from the top of a police wagon.

This is an edited version of an article originally published on Infoaut.org and later republished at tahrir.icn.

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