Some 300,000 Italians stopped on a sunny Saturday to sign a petition they hope will oust the most rotten politicians — those convicted or standing trial — out of parliament in the country’s first “F***-off day.”
In Italy, the serious often commingles with the facetious — the most popular investigative TV show is a fake news program with half-naked go-go girls — so it’s not too surprising that this political thrust came from a comedian.
Shaggy-haired, finger-wagging Beppe Grillo, who runs one of the most-read blogs in Europe, was the locomotive behind “Vaffanculo Day” aka “V-day” or “Vaffa-day” for the timid.
By any measure, the initiative was a success. Grillo (that’s “cricket” in English) only needed 50,000 signatures — six times less than what he got — to turn his proposal into a bill which would also limit lawmakers from serving more than two terms and introduce direct election of parliament members rather than leaving the choice to parties.
And this push for a change in politics demonstrated a difference in how protesters organize.
Liberatory Expletive Day resounded in 180 Italian cities and in a couple of continents using new technology — blogs, YouTube, Meetup — impressive when two-thirds of the country doesn’t use the Internet.
Traditional Italian media outlets — each with a pronounced political flavor and ties — used the event to stir up criticism for Romano Prodi’s current center-left government after mostly ignoring V-day.
Days later, they are still haranguing each other about it from across party lines, with only former judge and anti-corruption crusader Antonio Di Pietro supporting this public cry to clean up politics.
Papers and TV are so out of touch they gave massive space leading up to and then covering state funerals for opera icon Luciano Pavarotti (only NPR had the courage to say the truth: most Italians consider him a man who traded an old wife for a young secretary and tried to weasel out of taxes); Big Luciano’s burial warranted state broadcaster RAI’s first streaming Internet event.
In Milan, F***-offers met in the same square in front of the Castello Sforzesco where former premier Silvio Berlusconi wooed voters with cheese, Prosecco and playing cards with Il Cavaliere’s face about a year ago.
Minus the food and gadgets, the alt-young things reminded me of a concert crowd — another frequent mixer with politics here — very mellow, kids, dogs, dreadlocks all welcome but not obligatory. (Here are some quick phone cam shots, but the 3,400-odd photos from around Italy give a better idea of just how many people came out.)
Bands and political thinkers boomed out of a truck and there was petition signing, a little beer drinking and general bonhomie. A couple hundred people crowded into a corner of the square, not a bad turnout considering it was a beautiful fall day where most locals were shopping or roaming around pre-chanting for the France-Italy soccer match later that day.
I had few expectations from F***-off day; it seemed to me like one of those organized anarchy shindigs, kind of a contradiction in terms. Truth is, leading up to the event it wasn’t clear just what all this fed-up energy was being channeled to do, exactly.
But, as the Italian friend I dragged along with me said, “To see this many people come out for something done over the Internet, with no political affiliation, is unbelievable. If I were in government, I’d be worried.”