The introduction to this interview was previously published on the site of “Milanox” after the events occurred in Rome during the Occupy Rome demonstration – - http://www.milanox.eu/non-ci-rappresenta-nessuno/
The Teatro Valle Occupato has drifted away from its initial route and is now heading to Piramide. It’s about 6 PM of 10/15, and this is the Twittered message you can find following ashtag #15o, the personal and global reference point of this crazy day. I just escaped from two indiscriminate charges of the security forces (I should use the word “guard”, as it is better suitable for their manners, but I use the official term out of politeness), which, as usual, do not know and do not care to make any distinction between peaceful and not peaceful demonstrators.
Considered as reference point on Twitter for monitoring the behaviours of the second wave of demonstrators, which had the skill and luck of not finding itself trapped inside the urban area next to the Coliseum (via Labicana, Viale Manzoni, via Emanuele Filiberto and Piazza San Giovanni), Teatro Valle Occupato, along with other hundreds of associations and thousands of people, kept on with its protest march just to that point, losing itself in the night shadows of Rome at the beginning of Autumn. Nobody knows what happened. Nobody knows to what end the 10/15 protest came, because none of the official media reported it. According to conventional thinkers or moralists, always ready to point their finger right at street violence, they could have come from nowhere. As if they were just ghosts, missing witnesses of a day that lived on for the sensationalism of violence only. And it seems useless, almost utopian, to hope for a deeper analysis of the facts that happened that day.
10/15 in Rome had to be the day of indignation, the protest of a fair and self-conscious movement that had to seize the day for a chance of unique visibility, because no capital city in the world could even see a glimpse of the impressive turnout that the eternal city experienced. Instead, it was violence that prevailed. There is no point in denying such blatant evidence, whose strength and forms in the end were almost unexpected. Note for the reader ready to cast the stone of hypocrisy: I don’t want to be rhetorical, nor use rhetorical figures as a shield. This isn’t a personal commentary either. Mine is just a mere and unfortunately obvious observation: that’s what the great protest Occupy Rome will be remembered for, in the eyes of the servile media (note: I am not just talking about the Italian mainstream media owned by that tycoon with hair transplant and platform shoes, but also about the ones that everybody considers “progressive,” such as some Internet sources, which seem to increasingly reproduce the dynamics of its analog predecessors). And these media, always eager to jump on situations like this, played with titles and editorials, criticisms and analysis, to hide what happened on that day, a day way more meaningful than what appeared in the news.
Those who were in Rome, and those who witnessed the events from home, saw hundreds of thousands of people peacefully claim their need for a different future: social and economic equity and recognition of a generation of precarious workers, unemployed, students, teachers, researchers, cultural, artistic, film and theatre workers, and a number of “unlabelled” that do not even fall into a precise category, because the complexity of their profession is such that you can’t define them with one word in order to appreciate their value (both in terms of ethics and financial profit). Ghosts then, and even worse now. Deleted from the narrative of a day that could and should have been about something else. “Non ci rappresenta nessuno” (nobody represents us), our choirs were chanting. It’s true, today more than ever. This is a defeat whose proportions we cannot comprehend at all, for now.
Those who were in Rome (this is truly rhetoric, I know), whether or not they were trapped inside the San Giovanni clashes, were heart broken by the ignorance that prevented the real content of the protest from emerging. It was a lost chance that reminded us of the events immediately following the Genoa events in 2001. It made us think of the death of a movement, of the scientific destruction of a complex reality, a reality baring no flag or party, but strong and angered arising from a global movement, now mature and aware as it had never been before. A generationally complex, not professionally identified, rhizomatic movement, in its continuous experiences and struggles on only apparently different fronts (school, university, culture, art, environment).
The Movement will have to stop for a moment and reflect. I can almost hear the silence this Sunday. Nobody talks, very few comments. Many people reflect, for the time and chance to speak will surely come.
Antagonism has many faces, but from now on their traits are clearer, or at least this is the feeling I have. Radical Antagonism exists, and we should stop thinking that it only comprises of an isolated minority; likewise, it counterproductive to condemn it hypocritically, showing the nihilist and destructive side of those labelled with the rancid epithet of “black block”. From Athens to London (let’s leave aside, please, the parallelisms with the Nord African rebellion, at least to respect all of those who fight to eat) this war is not fought on the streets with tin soldiers, and Rome in this sense has been the same. The social distress manifested by these protests is not unlike to the one animating the peaceful protesters: what is different is the rhetoric of dissent, though the starting point is the same. It is important not to forget this.
In my opinion 10/15 will be remembered as a moment of reflection, but towards a gradual process of acceptance of violence, or at least of how to channel this anger into something constructive for alternative socio-political purposes. 10/15 offers the chance to understand how to avoid the instrumentalizations that always accompany these brutal events, how to keep a movement alive before it could be destroyed by the rhetoric of mass media, and how to organize protests and at the same time protect the peaceful demonstrators from the rage of the violent ones. The scenes we saw yesterday in San Giovanni evoke too many painful memories back to life.
I think it’s rather pointless to discuss once again the police mismanagement of the public space; what for should we talk about it? To assess the criminal attitude of kettling unarmed people and cutting their escape route, forcing them to run like hell through continuous charges and hydrant jets? Do we want to ask ourselves how could not be possible to handle a few hundreds of people armed with rods and stones without involving thousands of other peaceful ones? Do we want to blame that state authority that should defend and not offend? Is there anything new here? Where is the indignation then?
If we want to hold someone accountable, then we’d better consider on the same level those who infiltrate a peaceful protest by sneaking into the soft head of the demonstration (obviously not hard core antagonists) and then use the lay people as shield to protect their actions (and it would be better if they stated their actions clearly and with honesty), and those creating the conditions for those actions to degenerate into a physical and emotional damage for the ones that did not choose to stay in that situation.
Marco Mancuso: I would begin by simply letting our readers know how the occupation of Teatro Valle started: what were the original subjects and how did the participation spread to other artistic, theatre and social organizations?
Teatro Valle: Three years ago a movement was born, called Lavoratori dello Spettacolo, primarily composed by theatre actors, actresses, directors and technicians that illustrated our field’s critical situation. During these three years people involved in the movement visited the main Italian festivals and infiltrated the premieres of Roman theatres to publicly read a dispatch explaining the extreme conditions of the field and demanding clarity and increased responsibility from the public institutions. The occupation of Teatro Valle has occurred at a moment when the situation of Italian theatre and Italian culture in general had started to collapse. Teatro Valle was closed after ETI (Ente Teatrale Italiano dealing with shows distribution and artistic mobility practices) was closed too. No one knew who would direct the theatre from that time on, someone even said it would be turned into a bistro cabaret, and that’s why we occupied it. We thought we would do it symbolically for three days, instead the events forced us to remain, and we started to conceive a plan of action and a strategy that would allow us to change the whole situation. Later on, other artistic and social organizations saw in our path an alternative, which brought us to a mutual relationship.
Marco Mancuso: In your opinion, what is the innovative thought at the root of your occupation? Maybe the idea to bypass the rhetoric and historical features of old-fashioned “political” occupations and the desire to search for new dynamics closer to today’s reality? A more “cultural” occupation, reflecting the emergency of social, economic and political issues for the new generations? In other words, what does the occupation of Teatro Valle mean for you in the broader context of this capitalist crisis?
Teatro Valle: A prearranged idea does not exist. Inside the occupation, everything is proceeding through practices, questions, organizations of meetings at Teatro Valle and political and daily organizational assemblies. No doubt we decided to make no compromise and to make sure that institutions use us as a model and not vice versa. We do not perform, we just do. We do not claim we will bring the economic crisis to a halt. At the moment, we write our documents (see Statuto della Fondazione Teatro Valle Bene Comune on http://www.teatrovalleoccupato.it) by drawing clues from what we do, mostly considering culture and Teatro Valle as common goods to share. We fight against privatization, and we will keep on doing that, thanks to the support of many artists, intellectual, philosophers, critics and people in general.
Marco Mancuso: Tell me about the organization of initiatives, artistic or not, and how the impressive network of participation by famous artists, leading cultural operators, intellectual and professionals was born in the context of countercultural national movements?
Teatro Valle: Activities are decided day by day, there are no prearranged priorities and everything happens following political, cultural and social emergencies. In the past four months we have made no clear artistic choice, that is, we haven’t had a veritable artistic direction. The stage has witnessed many different artists and genres willing to support us with their art forms. We did not make a choice but we are now trying to follow the principle of turnover, like Statuto delle Fondazione has always suggested. We decided to identify different artists and make them try and direct Teatro Valle for a limited period of time, from three to seven days. In terms of the participation, we think that occupying a historic trademark in the middle of the city, which we have done with great respect and protection and in the spirit of the cultural struggle, has awakened all of those consciences that had lay asleep for some time. These consciences empathized with our goal and agreed to give their contribution by using the only weapon at their disposal, art.
Marco Mancuso: According to you, what are the “cultural operators” and what are their requests and activities in the political, economical and social Italian context? In what way are you linked to other similar organizations in Italy, such as “art operators” in Milan?
Teatro Valle: “Lavoratori dello Spettacolo” only ask to be recognized as a category. They ask for duties (to pay taxes) as well as rights, work with dignity (no more free rehearsals and repeats paid with no benefits and contracts), retirement, a fair benefit package and the right to be intermittent (as in other countries of Europe). We have contacts with many realities in Milan, as well as Naples, Palermo, Messina, Florence, Pisa and, in Abruzzo. Our occupation is still looking for other ones. We always develop our activities in the artistic field, by fighting against speculation, influence peddling, authorities and market-logic.
Marco Mancuso: In this sense, what are for you possible modalities of struggle and what are the alternatives for a social, economic future, political in a wider sense, for cultural operators, art, theatre operators, precarious workers, university researchers, students and a whole generation of professionals that are difficult to classify?
Teatro Valle: It is not easy to give answers after only four months of occupation, for the methods are coming out of what we do on a day-to-day basis. A Statuto di Fondazione Teatro Valle Bene Comune was born from the practices of this occupation and our conversation with jurists Ugo Mattei and Stefano Rodotà,(the first draft has been presented this 10/20 2001). In this document we have written our recommendations on how, according to us, a public good like theatre should be managed under a democratic and constitutional system of government. In general terms, we request to abolish market logics, to destroy clientelism in theatre and beyond, we ask for fair allocation of tax payers resources, public money that goes literally wasted, damaging culture in the first place. We are fighting for a common good and we want to reappropriate democratic public spaces, founded on the quality of relations and not on the quantity of money accumulated.
Marco Mancuso: What is your relation with media like? On the one hand, you are very interested on Network dynamics and Social Networks, on the other hand, you managed to get great visibility through traditional media as well (I mean Internet too, for I am not only referring to the world of blogs and independent headings, but rather to the best online newspapers). How can you explain this huge media attention caused by your occupation?
Teatro Valle: Within our organization we try to operate efficiently and the resources we use are field professionals and people who, despite operating independently from us, have some investment in communication for Blogs and Social Networks practices. As for the media attention to our occupation, that happened because our press agency deals with a much broader field: not only the artistic context, but also a more broadly cultural and political one. The occupation grew stronger and bigger on a political level too, satisfying the most urgent requests of people. We are a political phenomenon, which is followed because people want to identify with the activities we do.
Marco Mancuso: In the meantime, during these months, you have involved journalists, philosophers and jurists in your struggle. What have been the advantages for this growth, in terms of knowledge and sharing of experience?
Teatro Valle: To involve personalities like those facilitates an expansion of knowledge. It gives the structure of the struggle more profound direction, and puts it in touch with experienced ideas that in turn enable different activities, in a certain sense more aware. Our path has surely grown stronger thanks to these experiences, and it is now investigating new forms for meeting people’s needs in these times of deep crisis.
Marco Mancuso: One thing strucks me: both in your “statute” and in many of your Theatre activities, narration is seen as a possible political instrument. Can you explain better what you mean by this and how the disciplines more linked to narrative (theatre and cinema) should be more responsible to create an increasingly socially and politically aware public?
Teatro Valle: We promote Narration because in the last 40 years they denied it to us. The arrival and growth of media, television above all, destroyed narration of the present, sweeping aside any thought or discussion. We want back our chance to dream and imagine. We have confidence in people’s thinking and imagination, and we want this to rise from bottom up, from people, from their lives. In the past months, every Thursday, Teatro Valle offered a course of narration of the present by philosopher Federica Giardini. These years’ destruction of thought produced by political powers made people lose their ability to think differently. We need to bring narration back as a political tool. We need to speak of artisanal and creative work, for instance, to keep “materiality” alive, without fear or shame, against the rhetoric of “waste” and “privilege”. We need to narrate the gesture in order to identify the connection between cooperative work and knowledge sharing. We must consider knowledge as interconnected, the connection between technical-artisanal competences and invention, we must fight the rhetoric of the “skill”. Nowadays, young people do not have any ability to think creatively because their current context does not allow them to do that. We’d want to recreate the right conditions for it to happen and rediscover work in fields that seem now lost and obsolete (agriculture and craft, for instance) despite having represented and still being the pillars holding Italy and its people together.
Marco Mancuso: Finally, do you think it is possible to recreate an occupation like yours? And if yes, how? How could you foster endorsement at a urban level, and nationally how do you draw attention to your motivations, thus avoiding the risk of eviction and compulsory removal by the security forces?
Teatro Valle: We would like this to happen. We’d like Teatro Valle to live according to the current practices. Italy is not completely exhausted to not engage in a real war (I mean with armies and weapons), we are not at the end of our strength, yet not everybody is willing or is in the conditions to start a true revolution. Many Italians are not even aware of our struggle. We still have much to do, four months do not mean anything yet. Real changes need years to be completed. Let’s be pragmatic and let’s keep on going.
Whether our practices can be spread widely or not depends on other groups’ wish to act like us and make something that truly opens up public spaces to the citizens, by engaging them and communicating with them as much as possible. Public education is one of the most important practices we are trying to take part in. The labs we carried out this summer were focused both on education and on divulging the craft of directors and actors’ work. Our practices obviously deal with our field, the world of entertainment. The involvement and interest of people gave us the power to prevent eviction. This practice should be followed everywhere, so that the whole country could take its territory and spaces back.
Marco Mancuso: After the experience of 10/15 in Rome, what has changed and what will change in the Movement and in Italian antagonism in general? How did you feel after that day? Do you have any opinion? And what are possible actions and reflections in the context of Teatro Valle?
Teatro Valle: 10/15 revealed us the strength of a group that’s been working for four months. We showed great unity and friendship with each other despite our differences. We were in town along with other movements and our requests should have been heard in an open assembly with other groups in P.za S. Giovanni. Then some fringes within the movement became more extreme and hostile, and that unfortunately did not allow our meeting to happen. But we obviously want to keep the dialogue with each other going about government policies, and that’s why we keep in touch and go on protesting for our rights. We do that daily, facing the realities that surround us, and the practices we accomplish in Teatro Valle. We keep on building, aware that after 10/15 we are not alone, as other movements and groups want to fight by our side in a different way against those who rule us and represent us now.