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Not Your Ordinary 4th of July in Vicenza, Italy Or How To Get Kicked Off a U.S. Military Base
When it was announced that the U.S. army base at Camp Ederle would once again open its doors to the public for the annual 4th of July festivities, the people of Vicenza, Italy, who have been working to stop the construction of yet another U.S. military base in their historic city, decided to organize their own “Independence Day” celebrations. And as U.S. citizens residing in Italy, we knew this was one event we did not want to miss.
We traveled from Rome and Florence to this city in the north of Italy, famous for the architecture of Andrea Palladio and a Unesco World Heritage Site. And more recently it has become known throughout Italy and Europe as a symbol of grassroots struggle against U.S. militarism.
We also wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to visit the existing base of Camp Ederle, but with more than hot dogs and frisbies on our minds. We arrived at the security checkpoint wondering if our bags stuffed with flyers on the Appeal for Redress, a petition started by active duty service members calling for the immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and cards on the GI Rights Hotline, which offers counseling on everything from discharges and conscientious objector status to sexual harassment, would make it through. After a short line and a casual check of our bags, we were in.
Only a small portion of the sprawling base was open to the public, including the area around the football and baseball fields where the main festivities were being held. The Military Police were out in force, as were Italian Carabinieri . Deciding it best to first to find places to simply leave the flyers and cards, we hit the restrooms at the bowling alley and the Veneto Club, as well as the video games and slot machines. (For more on slot machines at overseas military bases, see this article from CNN)
Having never set foot on a military base, we were also curious to take a walk around. At first glance, it might have seemed similar to a country fair. But then you notice the enormous military vehicles on display instead of tractors, the trained dogs exhibiting their skills at finding explosives, and the tables selling baked goods with logos that included things like skulls and swords. Most startling was the sight of 4 women playing volleyball on a special field setup so that they were up to their knees in, and covered with, mud!
We strolled up and down the main street handing out the small but information packed GI Rights cards, carefully designed by someone who knows the importance of being discreet on a military base. Everyone we encountered took them with interest.
Just before leaving to go over to the “Independence From Military Bases” celebrations on the main square in Vicenza, we decided to take a photo with our No Dal Molin flag, symbol of the protests against the new base. Just seconds after taking the photo, as we were folding the flag to put it away, 4 or 5 military police came charging over saying, “No, no, you can't do that!” They asked, “Is that a “No Dal Molin” flag?” as one tried to take it but we held on to it tightly. They then ordered us to follow them. We explained we were on our way out and contested having done anything wrong, asking to see, in writing, any regulations against taking photos. There was no arguing with them so we decided to follow them and as we passed, two carabinieri were also “ordered” to come with us, though they seemed a bit hesitant and didn't understand the urgency of it all.
As we arrived at the makeshift police station, two apparently high-ranking Italian police officers – with cooler heads – asked what was happening. We explained in Italian and they suggested everyone calm down and then informed the MPs that they would be escorting us to the exit, which is exactly what we wanted. They even offered to file a complaint if the MPs had treated us improperly, but at that point we just wanted off the base. The cultural differences were blatantly apparent in the two different approaches to the situation.
On our way to the exit, one of the Italian officers asked Nancy, “What does it feel like to be on a small piece of your homeland in Italy?” Nancy, looking around at all the military uniforms, police, barricades and barriers, replied, “This doesn't really resemble my homeland.”
The irony of it all was after all that, we discovered the photo didn't come out!
A completely different atmosphere was to be found on the main square in Vicenza. A giant Italian peace flag was flapping in the breeze, to the delight of the children, and the U.S. peace flag we left with the movement last December was flying over the main tent. Under the portico a video on the realities of war was being screened with a banner above reading, “Is this really what you want?”
Over 1000 people were there, savoring pasta made from grain grown on lands freed from the mafia with a sauce made from organic tomatoes and mozzarella, sipping the movement's very own wine, viNO dal Molin , and enjoying locally produced watermelon. A table selling No Dal Molin t-shirts, jackets, hats and bags quickly ran out of the most popular items. And the “mojito” station, complete with mint leaves gathered at the permanent encampment near the proposed base, which has been open 24 hours a day since last January, raised money for the monthly newspaper of the movement.
A theatrical representation by the women making up the Gruppo Donne of the movement, “Alla fiera del Nord-Est,” recounted the movement's short but action packed history and drew a huge crowd, as did the performance of the songs – in the local dialect – that have become symbols of this movement. Speakers read from Henry David Thoreau on civil disobedience and from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, drawing parallels to the current situation in Vicenza. We were also given the chance to talk about our experience on the Ederle base earlier that day and received the usual enthusiastic round of applause. The local band “Osteria Popolare Berica” got much of the crowd off their feet and dancing as the fun went on until midnight.
This was the first ever “Independence From Military Bases” celebration in Vicenza, and with the Italian government's official approval of the new U.S. base just a few weeks ago, curiously timed to coincide with a $2 billion contract awarded to the Italian aeronautical group Finmeccanica, some may think it a bit premature. But it was organized by the local people with the conviction that the new base will not be built, that they will succeed in protecting their future. “We want a city free of armies and military bases. This 4th of July, we celebrate the city of Vicenza that is to come.”
US Citizens for Peace & Justice, Rome, Italy
US Citizens Against War, Florence, Italy
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