Break Through the White Noise: to Be an Antifascist Today in Italy



Italian policies continue to increase their violence, in particular since the Conte government took over. Annalisa Cannito invites us to read the current manifestations of structural racism in Italy through the colonial and fascist history of the country, as well as to wonder what being antifascist means today.

Translated from French by Chanelle Adams.

The white noise is a kind of invisible shield that prevents one from receiving and interpreting information coming from other sources. It has the capability to reassure the listener because it is ever present and constant. The political use of traditional mainstream media, such as newspapers and broadcast media, as well as the internet, reflect and shape prevailing currents of thought coming from white, chauvinistic, male, right-wing groups and parties. All the toxic white noise about borders, control, invasion, Italianness, nationalism, security, Christianity, the heteronormative family, pro-life arguments, and so on, that surround us from school to work, from home to internet, from museum to street, have a direct and brutal impact on the daily lives of many people and so, must be constantly counteracted.

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Antifascist demonstration in Savona on October 15, 2017. / Photo by Brothers Art.

Italy’s current Minister of Family and Disability is Lorenzo Fontana, far right Northern League member, and former deputy mayor of Verona, a well-known Catholic fundamentalist and member of the No194, an anti-abortion movement that aims at cancelling the 194 Law that legalized abortion in 1978, which they compared to “legalized murder.” This October, Verona’s Council voted in favor of a motion put forward by Alberto Zelger, city councillor and member of the League, declaring Verona a “pro-life city” by demanding public funds for anti-abortion groups and projects that promote motherhood, including a monthly payment to women who decide not to terminate their pregnancies. In opposition, activists from women’s rights and feminist group Non Una di Meno (Not One Less) staged a protest during council debates on the new measures they considered neo-medieval, dressing as characters from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, in which women perform the function of living incubators to produce children in a misogynist dictatorship. On November 24, thousands of dissident feminists participated in a national demonstration organised by the Non Una Di Meno movement against gender-based violence and patriarchal and racist government politics. The movement refuses the fear, hate and structural violence of laws, through mobilization and diffusion of solidarity, focusing first on female migrants, who are the most exposed to the violence of these hierarchical structures. It demands, among other things, the freedom of movement and the right to stay, rights to asylum, citizenship and a European residence permit without conditions, independently from studies, work, or marital statuses.

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“Against male violence on women.” Feminist march organized by feminist collective Non Una di Meno. Rome, 24 November 2018. / Photo by Roberta Cristofori.

The very same Minister, Lorenzo Fontana, called last August for the abolition of another law, the antifascist Mancino law introduced in 1993 that sanctions and condemns gestures, actions and slogans linked to Nazi or Fascist ideology, whose goals are violence and discrimination for racial, ethnic, religious or national reasons. Even though the Mancino law hadn’t been entirely applied over the years of its existence, as the number of groups and organizations that show racist and fascist sentiment has grown exponentially without legal consequences, it must be protected because it still represents a judicial weapon on which especially non-white women and men, “Italian”or not, can rely on.

Racism is an integral part of the genetic code of European modernity. The contemporary forms of racism today, including discourse and practice, are heritage of the colonialist and fascist experience. Since 2013, I have carried out an investigation under the name “In the Belly of Fascism and Colonialism” in an attempt to understand how those supremacist and repressive apparatuses that operated historically, still continue to operate in various forms, more or less visible, in contemporary European necrocapitalist societies.

Today, racism is completely interiorized and normalized. Even though violent racist attacks, that in many cases result in the assassination of Black people, have grown across the country since the 1980s, in the last year the trend has increased sharply due to repressive measures and racist, populist political campaigns within the establishment of the current government.

Northern League leader, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, with the silent and complicit backing of the coalition party Five Star Movement, has taken a hard line on immigration since coming into power this June, perpetuating and reinforcing the most recent measures from previous Minister of the Interior Marco Minniti (member of the Democratic Party), under Matteo Renzi’s government, in regards to the politics of expulsions. Since last summer, he has been shouting from the rooftops the political line of the “closed ports” whereby no NGO-operated ships carrying migrants rescued in the Mediterranean would be allowed to dock at Italian ports. This was the case of rescue vessels Open Arms, Ubaldo Diciotti and Aquarius. These operations have been criminalized with accusations of being complicit in human trafficking and contributing to the business of illegal immigration — even though no inquiry has ever come to any conviction — thus temporarily paralyzing the rescue system. The Italian government’s actions prevent migrants from arriving to the country’s coast by blocking the ships directly in Libya, or intercepting them as soon as they leave the North African coast. Salvini told the European Union that Libya should be considered a “safe port” and that everyone leaving from its coasts should be taken back. However, as Dagmawi Yimer showed in his 2008 documentary Like a Man on Earth, migrants in Libya are confined in detention centers under inhumane conditions, subjected to violence, tortures and abuses of any kind.

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National demonstration organized by the Indivisible Network against racism and the Salvini Sicurezza decree. Rome, November 10, 2018. / Photos by Antonio Nardelli.

To be antifascist today means to react to this status quo through projects such as Mediterranea, a platform of different initiatives from civil society that, among other actions, has purchased Mare Jonio a ship that has set sail to the deadliest border of the world, the Mediterranean Sea, to observe, witness, document and inform the public of what is happening in international waters and, if necessary, save whoever is at risk of death. It claims the right of a confluence of non-state subjects to intervene in an area in which the “responsible authorities” are proudly violating their obligation to protect the lives of people in transit. Mediterranea is an open platform in which all those who want to give support can engage and participate, for example, through organizing crowdfunding events, which are absolutely necessary to ensure the financial sustainability of such projects. More generally, it is about opening a space in Italy and in Europe for debate, action, and negotiation around the topic of migration, self-governance and the responsibility of European societies.

Along the same repressive line, on November 28, 2018 the migration and security decree issued by far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was adopted. The law crucially jeopardizes the rights of asylum seekers and those who hold international protection as well as the general functioning of the public reception system. The allocation of funds for state police will increase exponentially, and they will be equipped with Taser stun guns. Squatters and those who temporarily occupy and block a street or train tracks will be sanctioned with up to four years of imprisonment. To hold the two measures together under the same law emphasizes the racist correlation between migration and the need of security, control and punishment. It is clearer than ever that people will be targeted through racial profiling.

To be antifascist today means fighting for the right to housing for all by defending those who occupy when there are tens of thousands of vacant houses and apartments. There is a need to build alternatives and create new forms of mutualism and cooperation in response to the precarious living conditions and the crisis of housing policies. Self-managed and occupied buildings (social centers, occupied student and family housing), places of political, cultural and social subjectivization, have been and still are a concrete answer in Italy. Among tens of experiences that still resist the threats of evacuation, I can mention the Metropoliz and the Hotel 4 Stelle in Rome, where hundreds of people from different ethnic background live together. To be an antifascist today means to fight for a society freed from the exploitation of workers and where the possibility of exercising one’s rights is not undermined by blackmail, threats of being fired, or the consequential loss of the permit to stay, in case of migrant workers. An example is given by a wide movement of self-organized struggles in the logistics sector (ex. TNT, GLS, BRT, SDA, DHL) involving hundreds of workers distributed throughout the country, who are fighting against low wages and inhumane work rhythms, functioning to accumulate profits accumulation for a long chain of clients, contractors and subcontractors. The specificity of these mobilizations consists precisely in the political capacity to hit the company in its main economy by putting into practice the total blockade of the circulation of goods. A rare case is also the RiMaflow, the worker-recovered factory near Milano occupied in 2013, emerged from a formerly abandoned multinational business which had dismissed 330 people. The activities carried out match solidarity economy with productive activities in a context of anti-capitalist and ecological struggle.The RiMaflow cooperative has become one of the most significant experiences of workers’ self-managed factories.

To be antifascist means fighting the devastation of the lands which favor speculators. It is the case for all those movements and struggles that act against the unnecessary imposition of Mega Projects, large-scale investments which includes infrastructure projects dealing with transport, energy, water and waste management, large-scale tourist resorts and commercial centers. The opposition movements (such as the NO-TAV, NO-Terzo Valico, No-Gronda, NO-TAP, NO-MUOS, No-Grandi Navi), which developed from the south to the north of Italy, set their struggles in the fight against neoliberal policies which benefits small elite and big corporations while harming the environment, the population and destabilizing the local economy. They stand against the militarization of the territory and the defense of dissident activists who have been criminalized and violently repressed through the years. They suggest that rather than building massive new projects, the government should focus on monitoring, maintaining, and optimizing existence infrastructure that needs consistent renovation (see what happened last summer in Genoa with the collapse of Morandi’s bridge and the death of 43 people).

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National demonstration organized by the Indivisible Network against racism and the Salvini Sicurezza decree. Rome, November 10, 2018. / Photos by Antonio Nardelli.

To be antifascist today means to take back the means of production, as it was for Mondeggi Bene Comune Fattoria Senza Padroni, an agro-ecological rural reality inserted in a recovered public land that was destined to privatization. The result of a path of popular reappropriation of land through civic organization, it is a self-organized reality managed by an assembly that, since 2013, continues to meet regularly. The recovery of the entire farm takes place through the labor and devotion of the people involved in the land and the use of environmentally friendly rural farming, considered the only model that can be pursued to give decent income and housing opportunities to the largest possible number of people.

To be antifascist today means to not resign to the idea of being spectators of the democratic theatrical show of our governors and E.U. bureaucrats but to take spaces to articulate and speak for ourselves, to know and exercise our rights, to share and collectivize experiences, to defend and reclaim the common goods for all regardless of national, ethnic, religious and gender identification. ■