Italian Women Lead Grassroots Campaign Against US Military Base
By Medea Benjamin
"E noi che siamo donne, paura non abbiamo
And we who are women are not afraid
The women singing and chanting at the head of the massive march on February 17 in the picturesque Italian town of Vicenza have been fighting to stop a U.S. military base from being built in their community. Cinzia Bottene, a housewife who has become the public face of the movement, was ecstatic with the turnout for the march, estimated by the police at 80,000 and by the organizers at 200,000. "We've never had anything like this before in the history of Vicenza. There were more people marching with us than the total population. The government, both nationally and locally, will no longer be able to ignore us."
Unlike campaigns organized by activists or political parties, this movement sprang from the community itself. The main organizers are Italian women, many of them housewives who were outraged when they learned that a US military base would be built on the site of an old airfield called Dal Molin. The old airfield, which is now a green space, is right next to their homes and is less than two miles from the city's historic center.
"The military base will bring more traffic, more noise, more air pollution," complained Cinzia. "You see how beautiful our city is? A new base will put a strain on our infrastructure, our services, our resources. It will destroy our community."
The people of Vicenza take great pride in their city, which was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1994 because of the number of buildings designed by the famous 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio. The military base would be less than a mile from Palladio's ancient church in the Piazza dei Signori.
Many residents also worry that the new base will make Vicenza a target for a terrorist attack. "With the Bush policies causing so much resentment in the world, such a large base could get us caught up in Bush's wars," said Vicenza resident Anna Faggi. "
Vicenza already houses the US military base called Ederle, which has about 2,900 active duty military personnel. With the new base at the Dal Molin airport, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, a rapid reaction unit now spread between Italy and Germany, would be united. (Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade were among the first troops involved in the Iraq war.) The combined force would bring the number of US military in Vicenza close to 5,000. Construction is scheduled to begin later this year and to be completed by 2011 at a cost of $576 million.
The local community says that plans for the base were made in secret by the previous Berlusconi government and the local government back in 2003, and the people only found out about it in May 2006. Since then, they have been educating and organizing the residents, and fighting the local city council that approved the base in October 2006 by a vote of 21 to 17. They bang their pots and pans at city council meetings for hours on end. They organize signature drives, block traffic, hold candlelight vigils, stage sit-ins at local offices, and on December 2 they held a mass march of 30,000 people. Knowing from polls that they represent the view of the majority of Vicenza residents, they asked the city council for a referendum on the base, but the council refused.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi, elected narrowly with a center-left coalition last April that ousted the conservative government of Silvio Berlusconi, had a chance to reverse government's decision, but didn't. On January 16, 2007, Prodi announced that he would abide by the previous agreement. Outraged, the Vicenza citizens decided to step up their opposition by setting up a permanent encampment on donated land adjacent to the proposed base. "The encampment is the best thing that has happened to our movement, because it allows us to have a presence 24-hours a day," said Attilio Pavin. "It's like a melting pot that brings the diverse parts together-the youth, the parents, the different committees. The young people-our children-really run the camp and take turns sleeping there. At our planning meetings, about 200 people show up. We eat together, we sing, we have fun together. It's really magical."
As part of the revving up of their opposition, the community decided to organize a massive demonstration on February 17 and ask people from all over Italy to join them. The pro-base forces, with the help of the conservative press and the US Embassy, tried to keep people away by orchestrating a fear campaign alleging that the march would attract extreme leftists prone to violence. They said there would be a repeat of the clashes between police and demonstrators that occurred at the anti-globalization protests in Genoa in 2001. The U.S. Embassy warned Americans to steer clear of Vicenza. On the day of the march, the airspace over the city was closed, and most stores in its historic center were shut down. Officials even shut schools normally open on Saturday. Some 1,500 police were mobilized for the day and helicopters hovered overhead.
While the fear campaign certainly kept some people away, particularly parents who kept their children from attending, for the most part it had the opposite effect. People poured in from all over the country. The marchers, dancing, chanting, singing, laughing, encircled the picturesque city with rainbow-colored peace flags, flags saying NO to the Dal Molin Base, and the red flags of the various Communist parties. Music blasted from trucks with stereo equipment. Unlike US marches, there was plenty of alcohol: everyone seemed to have a bottle of beer or a glass of wine in hand.
It was a glorious, sunny day, and the atmosphere was festive and 100% peaceful. The crowd was so huge for this small town of just 120,000 residents that the march began an hour early just to alleviate the overcrowding. The lead banner, held by the women, said, "The Future is in Our Hands" and warned the politicians that the protesters would not give up. For hours, the women marched for 4 miles, singing and shouting chants like: "Vogliamo la terra, senza basi di guerra (We want the land, without bases for war) and "Vicenza no se usa, per una base USA" (Vicenza will not be used for a US base). The march snaked outside the walls of the old city, ending with a rally, a presentation by Nobel playwright Dario Fo, and a concert in the city park.
Silvio Berlusconi called this grand show of people power "an anti-American march" that represented a "sad day for Italy." He obviously didn't see the crowd's reaction to a group of Americans who participated in the march holding a banner reading "Not in Our Name-Americans Against War." "We could hardly move because everyone kept stopping us to applaud and take our pictures," said Stephanie Westbrook, organizer of the Rome-based Americans for Peace and Justice. "I've never seen anything like it. People were hugging and kissing us, giving us flowers and glasses of wine. It was an extraordinary outpouring of love and sympathy."
As a representative from the United States, I had an opportunity to address the crowd. I was greeted with thunderous applause when I said that the march was pro-American because the American people in the last election rejected Bush's policy of war and aggression. When I noted that the US already had 737 foreign bases and we certainly didn't need another one, the crowd roared and joined me chanting, in English, "1,2,3,4, No More Bases, No More War."
Gina Masi, a 17-year-old from Vicenza dressed in punk-style black with lots of spiked metal, came running up to me afterwards, in tears. "Please tell your people that we are not anti-American," she insisted. "Look at me. My clothes are American, the music I love is American. Even my boots are American Eagle. But we want to relate to Americans through culture and music, not military bases and war."
Most of the protesters were, in fact, angrier at their own government than they were at the United States. They feel betrayed by Prime Minister Romano Prodi. Prodi's position has divided his own government. The communists and Greens, both members of the government coalition, supported the march, as did individual Senators from other coalition parties.
All were furious when Prodi, on the very day of the march, insisted that the mobilization would not affect his decision. "The dye has been cast and the decision will stand," he said.
But unlike here in the U.S., where mass mobilizations go unreported in the press and ignored by the politicians, the Italian march made front-page news throughout the country and will undoubtedly have an impact on the political scene.
Organizer Patrizia Cammarata was fired up as she talked about future plans. "This is just the beginning. We'll boycott businesses working with the base, we'll call strikes, we'll block construction. Prodi better understand that Vicenza has support from all over the country. No matter what he says, we will keep saying 'NO' to the base.
Cinzia Bottene, addressing the crowd at the end of the march, said, "I am very proud of my city today. We have shown the true spirit of Vicenza. I hope that Prodi will be smart enough to listen to the people and change his mind. That would not be a sign of weakness, but the sign of a good leader, for we, the people, will not give up."
Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange, was in Italy for the anti-base protest. If you would like to help this effort, including bringing the Italian women to Washington DC to plead their case, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Open Letter to the US Ambassador in Italy regarding "anti-Americanism" on the occasion of his visit to Florence
To Ambassador Ronald Spogli
As U.S. citizens in Italy, we write to ask you to put an end to our Embassy's interference in Italy's political affairs.
Your letter, signed by four other ambassadors and designed to put pressure on the Italian government to continue its participation in the war in Afghanistan, was an unheard of and unacceptable interference by the U.S. Embassy in the democratic process of this country, as well as being offensive to the great majority of Italians who, as shown in the opinion polls, have expressed their desire that Italian troops be withdrawn from Afghanistan in accordance with Art. 11 of the Constitution which declares that "Italy repudiates war as a means of resolving international conflicts".
A few days later, the U.S. Embassy, in our opinion, committed a second serious impropriety. It addressed to U.S. citizens in Italy a letter warning of the potential dangers for those of us intending to demonstrate in Vicenza on February 17 , together with Italian citizens, against the creation of a U.S. megabase, the largest offensive base abroad. This demonstration is described as "anti-American" in the letter, which advises us to stay away from the city from February 16 to 18 so as to avoid becoming "targets of anti-American demonstrators".
The contents of the letter do not correspond to reality. They disseminate fear and ignorance, and are offensive to the intelligence of U.S. citizens in Italy and to the democratic reality of Italian society.
First of all, the February 17 demonstration is not anti-U.S.; it is a protest against the U.S. government's request to build a new U.S. megabase in the vicinity of Vicenza's city centre, a city recognized by UNESCO as part of the cultural heritage of all humanity. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of the people of Vicenza and of Italy as a whole do not want yet another U.S. base (there are already about 20 U.S. military installations in the country). On December 2, 2006, some 30,000 people demonstrated in Vicenza against the base - a colorful and peaceful march in which U.S. citizens from Florence and Rome participated without experiencing any "anti-American" incidents whatsoever. Indeed, our presence there was much appreciated.
To distribute a letter to US citizens saying that they incur dangerous risks in Italy because of a political demonstration is a barely veiled attempt to discourage or indeed to silence those who wish to express their disapproval of the Bush administration's policies of war and occupation.
As Ambassador, you do of course represent the government of Bush and Cheney, but the last mid-term elections in the U.S.A. show that this government no longer represents the majority of our people, especially as concerns foreign policy and war. U.S. society is profoundly sick with militarism and increasingly our compatriots are saying: Enough!
At the demonstrations against the bases, whether in Vicenza or at Camp Darby or Aviano or Sigonella, at the anti-war demonstrations, here in Italy and in so many other countries including the U.S.A. (were the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Washington and other U.S. cities on January 27 dangerous "anti-Americans"?), people are protesting not against the people of the United States but against the violence of war and military occupation, not just in Iraq (more than 655,000 dead since the start of the war) but also in Afghanistan and Palestine. They protest against the militarization of the land and the economy, against the presence of foreign bases with their stockpiles of nuclear and depleted uranium weapons. Like Amnesty International they demand the closing down of Guantánamo and all the secret prisons, and a halt to the secret CIA flights (as in the Abu Omar case), as well as an end to the practice of torture and the violation of human rights (are these demands "anti-American"?). They ask for another possible world, with a new culture of peace and global justice.
We, U.S citizens in Italy, like millions of our compatriots in the U.S.A., oppose the policies of waging wars abroad and abrogating civil rights at home pursued by the Bush and Cheney government while serious social problems are ignored. In the U.S.A. we have the worst healthcare system in the Western world, with some 50 million people not covered by any medical insurance. We have the greatest number of people in prison and the highest rate of incarceration in the world (we represent 5% of the global population and have 25% of the world's prisoners), with more than 4,000 people on Death Row. We demand funding not for the armed forces but for healthcare, schools, the environment, jobs, the reconstruction of our cities, public transport, and solidarity with the rest of the world.
Forty years ago during the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King declared: "We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest." And he added: "a time comes when silence is betrayal" .
We, U.S. citizens in Italy, will be in Vicenza on February 17 because for us the demonstration against the base and against wars is also a demonstration in support of the majority of U.S. citizens who want to see a change of direction in U.S. foreign and domestic policy.
We therefore ask you to rectify matters by sending a further letter to our compatriots in Italy to say that the February 17 protest in Vicenza, far from representing a phenomenon of "anti-Americanism" - a sentiment not very wide-spread in Italy and especially not among those who are for peace - is in fact a fine example of the exercise of a fundamental democratic right, in which U.S. citizens in Italy will participate and are invited to participate.
U.S. Citizens Against War (Florence)
P.S. We take this opportunity to remind you that the case of the voluntary homicide in Baghdad of Italian agent Nicola Calipari and the attempted homicide of Giuliana Sgrena is not yet closed and we ask that the full cooperation of our government be extended to Italian legal authorities.
Original Warning - Feb 7
"US Citizens, Rome" <USCitizensRome@state.gov> wrote:
Subject: Vicenza Warden Message
Anti-U.S. Protest Planned in Vicenza on February 17, 2007
According to local authorities, a major anti-U.S. protest is planned for February 17, 2007 in Vicenza, Italy. The protest is planned in response to the Italian government's recent approval of an expanded U.S. military base in Vicenza, a city in northeast Italy. Law enforcement authorities estimate that 70,000 (seventy-thousand) participants, from a number of groups opposed to the base expansion, are possible. Although violence is not expected, some of the groups who may participate in the protest have been disruptive in the past. While the protesters have called for nation-wide demonstrations in support of their action in Vicenza, authorities cannot estimate the likelihood or extent of protests outside of the Vicenza area.
To date, there is no projected route for the demonstration, but there will likely be traffic flow disruptions, significant police activity, and impassable roadways in and around Vicenza's congested town center and at the military base areas.
U.S. citizens are advised to avoid Vicenza's town center and military base areas from February 16, 2007 to February 18, 2007 to avoid becoming targets of opportunity for anti-U.S. protesters. U.S. citizens should monitor local media for updated information on the planned demonstration prior to February 17, 2007.
The U.S. Embassy Consular Section in Rome is located at Via Vittorio Veneto, 121. The telephone number is 06-4674-1. Our website is: italy.usembassy.gov
U.S. Consulates in Italy are located in:
U.S. Consular Agents in Italy are located in:
As the Department continues to develop information on any potential security threats to U.S. citizens overseas, it shares credible threat information through its Consular Information Program documents, available on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov. In addition to information on the Internet, travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. or outside the U.S. and Canada on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
The updated warning issued following our letter described the demonstration as "anti-Dal Molin" rather than "anti-American" and advised only "official personnel" to avoid Vicenza rather than all U.S. citizens.
(February 15, 2007) - UPDATE: Protest Planned in Vicenza on February 17, 2007
This is an update to the Warden Message sent February 7, 2007.
The U.S. Embassy has received additional information concerning the planned route for the "Anti Dal Molin" demonstration scheduled for Saturday, February 17, 2007. A map of the proposed route is below. [emphasis added]
We understand that the demonstrators are scheduled to leave Camp Ederle Military Base to join a larger group in front of the Vicenza train station. We understand that the demonstrators route will be: Camp Ederle to Via Larmora, Viale D'Alviano, Corso Fogazzaro, Corso Motton S. Lorenzo, Corso SS. Felice e Fortunato to the Vicenza train station.
We have been informed that the demonstrators will depart at 1430 hours from the Vicenza Train Station and proceed via Viale Milano, Viale Mazzini, Viale D'Alviano, Viale F.lli Bandiera, Borgo Santa Lucia, Via Ceccarini, Via Legione Gallieno, Viale Margherita, Viale Risorgimento to Corte Campo Marzo. The demonstration is expected to conclude at 1900 hours.
The Questura of Vicenza has assured the public that sufficient law enforcement officers will be present to monitor the demonstration.
U.S. Mission Italy continues to caution official personnel to avoid the area surrounding the planned demonstration from Friday, February 16 through Sunday, February 18. [emphasis added]
The U.S. Embassy Consular Section in Rome is located at Via Vittorio Veneto, 121. The telephone number is 06-4674-1. Our website is: italy.usembassy.gov
U.S. Consulates in Italy are located in:
U.S. Consular Agents in Italy are located in:
As the Department continues to develop information on any potential security threats to U.S. citizens overseas, it shares credible threat information through its Consular Information Program documents, available on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov . In addition to information on the Internet, travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. or outside the U.S. and Canada on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
LETTERA APERTA ALL'AMBASCIATORE STATUNITENSE IN ITALIA, IN OCCASIONE DELLA SUA PRESENZA A FIRENZE, A PROPOSITO DELL'"ANTI-AMERICANISMO"
All'Ambasciatore Ronald Spogli
Come cittadini statunitensi in Italia Le scriviamo per chiedere una fine alle ingerenze della nostra Ambasciata nella vita politica dell'Italia.
La sua lettera firmata da altri quattro ambasciatori per fare pressione sul Governo italiano perché continui la sua partecipazione alla guerra in Afghanistan è stata una inaudita e inaccettabile interferenza dell'Ambasciata USA nella dialettica democratica di questo paese, oltre a suonare offensiva alla grande maggioranza degli italiani che secondo i sondaggi vorrebbero il ritiro delle truppe italiane anche in rispetto dell'Art. 11 della Costituzione che dichiara che "L'Italia ripudia la guerra come mezzo di risoluzione delle controversie internazionali."
Poi, pochi giorni dopo, l'Ambasciata USA ha compiuto a parere nostro una seconda grave scorrettezza. Ha inviata a noi statunitensi in Italia una lettera di avvertimento di possibile pericolo per noi qualora volessimo andare a Vicenza il 17 febbraio per protestare, insieme ai cittadini italiani, contro la creazione di una megabase USA, la più grande base offensiva all'estero. Questa manifestazione viene caratterizzata come "anti-statunitense" dalla lettera che consiglia a tutti di stare lontano dalla città dal 16 al 18 febbraio per evitare di diventare "bersagli di manifestanti anti-USA".
I contenuti della lettera non corrispondono alla realtà, diffondono paura e ignoranza, offendono l'intelligenza degli statunitensi in Italia e la realtà democratica della società italiana.
Prima di tutto, la manifestazione del 17 febbraio non è anti-statunitense; è contro la richiesta da parte del Governo USA di costruire una nuova megabase statunitense nei pressi del centro della città di Vicenza, città riconosciuta dall'UNESCO come patrimonio culturale dell'umanità. La verità è che la stragrande maggioranza dei vicentini e del popolo italiano intero non vuole questa ennesima base USA (siamo già presenti in Italia con circa 20 installazioni militari). Il 2 dicembre 2006 circa 30.000 persone hanno manifestato a Vicenza contro la base con un bel corteo colorato e pacifico al quale delegazioni di cittadini statunitensi di Firenze e Roma hanno partecipato senza mai incontrare episodi "anti-USA". Anzi, la nostra presenza è stata molto apprezzata.
Distribuire una lettera ai cittadini per dire che corrono dei pericoli in Italia a causa di una manifestazione politica è un tentativo neppure troppo nascosto di scoraggiare o addirittura mettere il bavaglio ai cittadini che vorrebbero esprimere il loro dissenso dalle politiche di guerra e di occupazione dell'amministrazione Bush.
Lei, Ambasciatore, certamente rappresenta il governo di Bush e Cheney, ma le ultime elezioni federali negli USA dimostrano che quel governo non rappresenta più la maggioranza del nostro popolo, soprattutto per quel che riguarda la politica estera e la guerra. La società USA è profondamente malata di militarismo e, sempre di più, i nostri concittadini dicono basta!
Alle manifestazioni contro le basi, come a Vicenza o a Camp Darby o ad Aviano o a Sigonella, alle manifestazioni contro la guerra, qui in Italia e in tanti altri paesi come negli USA (le centinaia di migliaia di manifestanti a Washington e in altre città USA il 27 gennaio scorso erano dei pericolosi anti-americani?), la gente protesta non contro il popolo statunitense ma contro la violenza delle guerre e delle occupazioni militari sostenute dal governo USA in Iraq (più di 655.000 morti dall'inizio della guerra) ma anche in Afghanistan e Palestina. Protesta contro la militarizzazione del territorio e dell'economia, contro la presenza di basi straniere con lo stoccaggio di armi nucleari e all'uranio impoverito. Come Amnesty International chiede la chiusura del campo di Guantanamo e di tutte le carceri segrete e la fine dei voli segreti della CIA (p.e. il caso di Abu Omar), oltre alla fine della pratica della tortura e la violazione dei diritti umani (sono richieste "anti-americane"?). Chiede un altro mondo possibile con una nuova cultura di pace e giustizia globale.
Noi cittadini statunitensi in Italia, come milioni di altri concittadini negli U.S.A., ci opponiamo alla politica di guerre all'estero e di cancellazione dei diritti civili nel nostro paese portata avanti dal governo di Bush e Cheney mentre seri problemi sociali vengono ignorati. Negli USA abbiamo il peggior sistema sanitario del mondo occidentale con circa 50 milioni di persone senza assicurazione sanitaria. Abbiamo il più alto numero di persone in carcere e il più alto tasso di incarcerazione di tutto il mondo (siamo 5% della popolazione globale con 25% degli incarcerati), con più di 4.000 persone nel bracio della morte. Chiediamo risorse non per le forze armate ma per la sanità, la scuola, l'ambiente, il lavoro, la ricostruzione delle città, il trasporto pubblico, la solidarietà con il resto del mondo.
Quarant'anni fa ai tempi della guerra in Vietnam, Martin Luther King dichiarò: "Siamo al punto, nelle nostre vite, in cui bisogna agire in prima persona affinchè il nostro paese soppravviva alla propria follia. Ogni uomo con le convinzioni umane deve decidere la protesta che meglio si adatta alle sue convinzioni, ma dobbiamo tutti protestare." E aggiunse: "Viene il momento in cui il silenzio è tradimento."
Noi cittadini statunitensi in Italia il 17 febbraio saremo presenti a Vicenza perché a parere nostro la manifestazione contro le basi e contro le guerre è una manifestazione di sostegno anche alla maggioranza dei cittadini statunitensi che desidera un cambio di rotta nella politica statunitense - all'estero e in paese.
Le chiediamo pertanto di inviare una lettera di rettifica ai nostri concittadini in Italia per dire che la manifestazione del 17 a Vicenza, lontano da rappresentare un fenomeno di "anti-americanismo", sentimento assai poco diffuso in Italia e soprattutto fra il popolo della pace, rappresenta invece un prezioso esempio di esercizio di un diritto democratico fondamentale al quale gli statunitensi in Italia parteciperanno e sono invitati a partecipare.
per la pace,
Statunitensi contro la guerra (Firenze)
P.S. Cogliamo l'occasione per ricordare che il caso dell'omicidio volontario a Baghdad dell'agente italiano Nicola Calipari e il tentato omicidio di Giuliana Sgrena non è chiuso e chiediamo la piena collaborazione del nostro governo con le autorità giudiziarie italiane.
Our letter [versione italiana] to the U.S. Ambassador to Italy Ronald Spogli in response to the Embassy's warning to avoid the "anti-American" protest in Vicenza. See the original warning, and the updated warning following our letter.
An Article by Paul Iversen: No Peace or Justice: America's plans to Expand a US Military Base in Vicenza, Italy
AltraVicenza - official site for the No Dal Molin campaign in Vicenza [mostly in Italian]
Via Camp Darby - campaign against the U.S. base near Pisa/Livorno [in Italian]
Via le bombe - campaign against nuclear weapon storage at Aviano and Ghedi Torre bases [mostly in Italian]
Stop U.S. Military Expansion in S. Korea - Cindy Sheehan and CodePink delegation November, 2006
No Bases - International conference for the abolition of foreign military bases. Quito, Ecuador, March 5-9, 2007
Eyes Wide Open Film Series: May 17 - June 14, 2012
Petition against foreign military intervention in Syria: Sign the petition promoted by PeaceLink and endorsed by U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice. For more information...
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Dear Mr. Ambassador
Copyright © 2007 Medea Benjamin All rights reserved.
U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome, Italy