Like all major paradigm shifts, it all started with a small discovery: that simple oven cleaner will clean off graffiti. And an oven-cleaner brigade was born. Yesterday, the group – filled with green-shirted students from the American & International universities and schools - set out to clean the walls of the otherwise stunning Pincio Park in Rome’s Villa Borghese. And clean they did. The miracle had grown until even the City authorities sent out a team - on a Sunday no less - to help out in the endeavor.
It was as if Garibaldi’s own red shirt brigade had made it to the walls of Rome – and in its tenacity, united Italy. Soon, Italians came to ask questions and join forces. And, talk of making this first halting step toward civic pride part of the school curricula with cleaning field trips perhaps…the miracle may even grow larger.
Combined with the recent ad campaigns detailing the fines for littering and graffiti, we may be at a watershed moment in Italian history.
It was the second time I’d ever seen an actual protest turn into taking actual action ; the first being the activism of Aquila’s homeless residents actually scooping out the detritus from the earthquake themselves. Up ‘til now, most protests consisted of the obligatory sit-ins on railroad tracks until “the authorities” did something about it.
This, naturally, would transform itself into a few words spoken to the press followed by years of political inertia while whomever had lodged the complaint either lost interest or died waiting for an outcome. In fact, Italians are not combative. They will win just by levying a perpetual three-card monty game with you, until you have no choice but to throw in the towel.
Personally, I think the “writers” (I prefer ‘scribblers’ – if you could read something, that might signify actual brain activity) will take all this notoriety as a challenge – and quickly cover up the walls as fast as they were oven-proofed down.
But, no matter, maybe what started out as grassroots can in fact take root. And, maybe, Italy will be united for the second time in its history.