My report on European Social Forum

T.Hartin t.hartin at qmul.ac.uk
Tue Nov 12 08:32:02 MST 2002


Hi all...these are my thoughts..in diary form.

Tony Hartin
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Firenze, citta aperta (Florence, the Opened City)

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/images/1110-01.jpg
http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/images/1109-02.jpg

Tuesday 7pm - standing in the queue for my flight to Pisa it becomes
obvious that the poeple in front and behind are also bound for the ESF. In
fact the flight is half-full of conference goers. Announcements aboput ESF
are made inflight by thestewardess.

Tuesday 9pm - We meet trouble at Pisa passport control. Foreign passports
are scrutinised at great length, bags are searched and there are a couple
of deportations of people arrested at a recent anti-nuclear protest in
Scotland. However, after customs we are met by a group of
COBAS/antagonistas. They make welcoming speeches and then drive us through
the backstreets of Pisa to their social centre.
The circuitous route is to avoid the waiting Polizia (we saw them along
the way). Berlusconi's media has been talking up trouble...

The social centre is a mixture of squat and organising centre. Banners are
being painted in the yard, there is an extensive library and media centre,
a couple of meeting rooms and a bar. Our hosts make political speeches
- there is a protest near Pisa tomorrow that we will all be going to -
they cook us a pasta meal and we all make friends over several beers. We
sleep where we were standing.

Wednesday 7am - We are woken to another meal prepared by our hosts, and we
have some time for the Pisa sights before the rally. The headlines in the
Berlusconi papers is "Demonstration today - Pisa trembles"

Wednesday 11am - we assemble at Pisa stazione for the buses to a nearby US
base - Camp Darby. There are many protestors, also many Carabineri in full
riot gear. The Italians start chanting Bastardi! and assassini! These
riot cops are the brutes of Genoa. We pile on buses bedecked with red
flags and make our way to the US base to many a stirring Italian
revolutionary song.

Wednesday 3pm - Buses have been shuttling demonstrators all day long and
we set out on a march some 5,000-10,000 strong. The march is in great spirits and many a great speech is
made outside the main gates of the camp. Our contingent of 30 UK
protestors (those on our flight) is greeted with much joy. The carabineri
preparations seem as if they were expecting an invasion by the red army.
We are told by our Italian hosts that there will be no attempt on the
fence as we must all get to Florence.

Wednesday 8pm - After a rousing send-off at Pisa station we arrive in
Florence. At the Pizzeria where we eat, the waiter asks us for a red flag
to hang in the window. A plain red flag is not satisfactory - it has
to have writing on it - so we give him a SWP flag with Fist symbol. He is
happy. We make our way to a Sports stadium where we will sleep for the
next few nights. The stadium - completely taken over by the conference - is
another world in itself - a space free of sexism and worries of theft.
There is much mixing of languages - everyone wants to be able to
communicate with each other. Every morning we are woken by a political
speech arguing why it is necessary to get up and go to meetings. In the
bathrooms people are whistling the Internationale - when we reach the
chorus it is sung simulteously in half a dozen languages.

Thursday 9am - There is a massive crowd outside the registration centre
for the conference. People are banging on the windows with impatience to
get in. Organisers were hoping for 20,000 delegates - in fact over
60,000
delegates registered. The conference is centered in the Fortezza Basso - a
huge renaissance fort. It is a riot of politics, chants, flags and
meetings. Each morning and afternoon sees simultaneous meetings of thousands.
The central building in the Fortezza is awash with dozens of organisations
tables - books, flags, newspapers, songs, debates and information.

Friday - The numbers arriving at the forum continue to increase. Our
sports stadium is jam-packed with people, yet it continues to function
smoothly. Everyone has a willingness to get along, it makes living much easier.
All buses are free for us as are many of our meals, drinks, entrances to
museums and Parks. Florence adopts the epithet "Aperta citta" - the Open
City.

At the Fortezza the constant mill of leftists is giving way to spontaneous
chants, marches and speeches. It feels as if we have captured the Fort and
are planning our next step to take the city. The mixing of the
international groups is ongoing. I have dinner with the Polish comrades,
drinks with the Dutch comrades, chants with the Greek comrades.

Saturday 11am - The IS tendency contingent forms in the Fortezza and
marches to an assembly point for the main march - due to start at 3pm. Our
contingent stretches for city blocks and is some 3-4,000 strong.

Saturday 1pm - 300,000 have already assembled 2 hours before the march is
due to begin. We start the main march now, 2 hours early, in order to
leave room for more to assemble. Our march jam packs the city streets from
pavement to pavement. International contingents march at the front of the
march, headed overall by striking FIAT workers. In our contingent, we
assemble in international groups - the Turkish comrades head
the Greeks - Globalise Resistance, High School students and University
students make up the front. The Scottish Socialist Party happens to march
in front of Refondazione. The Refondazione comrades demand that
we teach them english chants, and in turn they teach us some Italian
chants.

Saturday 3pm - We reach the working class districts of Firenze. Residents
line the streets and cheer, or hang white sheets with painted slogans from
their windows. Many houses are closed though...we are later to find out
why. The vast majority of Firenze's population are on the streets behind
us in the Italian contingents. This is despite weeks of Berlusconi's
propaganda about their being blood on the streets today.

Saturday 5pm - Our part of the march reaches the sports stadium end-point.
People are still assembling and starting to march at the beginning point.
We are now 6-800,000 strong. 3 spearate marches are taking place
purely because there is no more room on the march route.

Saturday 8.30pm - The march is still arriving at the end point where a
fantastic concert is in progress. Our numbers now reach 1 million - this
in a city whose population is only 400,000. Not a single carabineri has
dared to show his(her) face and there has not been a single incident. This
is a most powerful argument against Berlusconi and his ilk who tell us
that we need the police and that another world is not possible.

We now know that it is possible - we saw it in action for the last 4 days.
This event has been a tremendous step forward for the European Left

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Department of Physics            | Tony Hartin
Queen Mary College               | TEL/FaX: +44 (0)20 7882 5054
Mile End Road  London  E1 4NS    | e-mail : t.hartin at qmul.ac.uk
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