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February 7, 2013

Making change manifest

Right to demonstrate provides valuable opportunity to speak up about your future—in any language.

I am not in Chicago. All I know about the protests and the actions of police at the UCMC is what I have seen over Facebook and in the Maroon. Therefore, I am in no position to express an opinion on what happened. However, as an individual, I support all those who choose to protest. The right to protest, to get in someone’s way and make his or her life difficult in order to make oneself heard, is a right fundamental to society. You should be grateful for those who protest, too.

Here in Bologna, manifestazioni are a common occurrence; and although they’re often an inconvenience, I’ve learned to appreciate them. A manifestazione is a public demonstration, that can take various forms and can occur for various reasons. The term can refer to a wide spectrum of events such as a public performance, a display of artwork, or a protest.

Bologna has a long history of movements in opposition to mainstream politics and culture. During WWII, Bologna was full of partisans who fought against the Fascists and later the Nazis. In the postwar period, Bologna’s government has always been left-leaning and, up until recently, communist. In 1977, violence between students and police led to the death of one student and barricades in the university zone. The conflict only ended once the army arrived.

Today, political activism remains strong in Bologna. It can be seen in the graffiti on the walls of the university zone: a pink fat pig with gold “bling” labeling it “bank,” red and black block letters that read “F*** Austerity” and “Occupy Everything.” Written in Sharpie around the blackboard of my literature class, there are unending sickles and scythes, drawn as if they were interconnecting hearts in the notebook of a 13-year-old girl.

Work stoppages are a part of daily life. Libraries are closed and buses do not run because all civil employees are on strike for the day. Weekend plans are interrupted because the train staff refuses to come in. More than once, I’ve been woken up in the morning by the sounds of blaring horns, megaphones, and chants as groups of people walk down the street in protest of one thing or another.

Each time I saw them, I thought of the futility of their efforts. Italy’s government is not financially capable of meeting all or even some of these demands. Italians must be crazy, I thought.

That is, until I found myself in the midst of the crazy. One day, while walking to class, I was in a crowd so thick that I could hardly move. After a few moments, I realized that they were high school students, acting just as they would any other day in class, chitchatting, laughing, spirited. Except, on that day, they were not in their classrooms but in the streets, making such a mess that even I, a New Yorker adept at working her way through the crowds at the Times Square subway station during rush hour, could not get through. An older man yelled at the kids, “Get ready, it’s time to march.” Their teachers were there too, coordinating and organizing the manifestazione.

During fall semester, I had an internship teaching English once a week at a local high school here in Bologna. The students I taught must have been in that crowd, even if I didn’t see them. They are normal high school students, who play tricks on one another and bring in cupcakes for birthdays. I couldn’t imagine that hundreds of students would not be apathetic, that teachers would help, instead of condemning a missed day of class, and that parents would let their children skip school and place themselves in a potentially dangerous position.

When I finally made it to the end of the crowd, I saw the police in riot gear, with their helmets and shields. It was a jarring, seemingly ominous sight—decked-out, intimidating officers confronting unarmed high schoolers. This was not some crazy, enraged mob. They weren’t talking about politics, but rather about boys and soccer games. Later, my roommate explained that the police just like to put on a good show. No other police force struts like the carabinieri of Bologna.

With a little research, I found out that students were protesting the funding cuts that schools were set to receive. With these cuts, the number of students per class would be increased significantly—from around 20 or so students to 30 students per teacher. Students argue that the increase in class size will hinder their education. Hence, they take to the streets.

I have immense respect for these students who are taking charge of their own educational destiny. And I admire the collaboration between students and teachers in an effort to improve the education system. But, the aims of individual manifestazioni aside, their continual occurrence maintains a cultural tradition that makes this city unique. To paraphrase Machiavelli, there is nothing so dangerous as resignation. Once we resign our future to the powers that be, we give up all of our individual power and the hope of change. Essentially, we’re sitting ducks. Manifestazioni are evidence that people are not resigned to whatever awaits them, but willing to take action to create their own future.

With that in mind, we should thank everyone who went to protest at the UCMC because they had the courage to fight for their convictions, rather than just let the powers that be decide. Their act of protest shows that we, as a student body and as individuals, are not going to have our future decided by others.

Noelle Turtur is a third-year in the College majoring in History.

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