Socialist Worker

'Florence showed the potential to change the world'

by Activists describe their European Social Forum
Issue No. 1827

WE PRINT some of the e-mails we received from our readers about the recent European Social Forum (ESF) and the million-strong anti-war demo in Florence, Italy.

'I AM a 15 year old Florentine girl. To see Florence filled with people is usual, but to see Florence filled with people who are wonderful people who want to do something for the world was the best thing I've seen. I want to say to Florentines and the world - don't fear us, don't ignore us, don't hate us. Just come and speak with us - you'll be always welcome!'
Arianna, Florence

'OUR SPARK school student delegation was one of the liveliest. Louder and more energetic than ever, we took inspiration from the million people who united against the war to say, 'Another world is possible.' We chanted, 'A...anti, anti...capitalista! Overthrow the system - revolution socialista!' first in a whisper and then getting louder and louder until we charged.

We all went home feeling inspired to build in our schools and colleges for the upcoming stop the war demo on 15 February and solidarity with the firefighters.'
Hannah Kuchler, age 16, Camden School for Girls

'OVER 400 seminars and workshops were held. Some were small - many were huge, with up to 6,000 people packed in one or other of the vast halls. There was an overwhelming consensus based on opposition to war, anti-racism, justice for the Palestinians, and opposition to privatisation and neo-liberal policies.

As someone who became politically active in the 1960s, this was an affirmation that we are at the beginning of a new movement that runs broader and deeper than the radicalisation of the 60s.'
Pete Cannell, Edinburgh

'THERE WERE 60,000 in Florence for the meetings and discussions that began to ask what a better world would look like. They spoke in several languages at the same time. They were young and old, multicoloured or serious in camouflage.

They argued about sustainable farming, the rights of asylum seekers, and the defence of workers' rights under assault from a Blair-Aznar-Berlusconi axis bent on privatisation.

They called for open frontiers for working people - but not for the bankers and the speculators. Despite the babble, the multiple translators, and the newspapers on sale in a dozen languages, I could have sworn we were saying the same things.'
Mike Gonzalez, Glasgow

'I WAS in Florence as part of an official Natfhe lecturers' union rank and file delegation. We had argued for, and won, that the national Natfhe banner should be taken with us on the European-wide anti-war demo.

Florence marked a shift in gear - from building resistance to building an alternative. We now need to bring the mood of Florence into our workplaces and onto the streets of Britain.'
Mark Campbell, Natfhe, London Metropolitan University

'IT WAS the internationalism that hit us. We were taking part in history, in something much bigger than any of us as individuals, something with the power to change the world.

Listening to speakers from so many different countries, different organisations, different backgrounds, we knew that our fight was the same.'
Sue Bond and Dorothy Robson, PCS civil servants' union members

'THE THING that most struck me was the sheer number of people who crammed into the meetings. A young Italian school student I spoke to compared the event to Genoa. She said that what the Italian police tried to take from us last year we took back in Florence.'
Guy Taylor, Globalise Resistance

'I WAS lucky enough to be at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January. What struck me most at the ESF was how things had moved forward since then. Florence was inspiration and empowerment from start to finish. No one was excluded.

Sitting in the meeting of the social movements the day after the demo, we all agreed to make 15 February the day we shut down every city in Europe in protest against the war.'
Sean Dey, South London

'A HIGHLIGHT had to be the meeting with Susan George and Alex Callinicos. The large meeting erupted when Alex called for revolution against capitalism and war. The atmosphere was incredibly serious as well as festive. People were inundating the International Socialist Tendency stalls with questions and arguments.'
Megan Trudell, South London

'I WAS overwhelmed by the response to the Anti Nazi League stickers. Wearing one around the city guaranteed people would smile at you or even come up and high-five you in the street.

Whenever you saw groups of Italian students they were wearing ANL stickers.'
Andrea Butcher, North West London

'I WAS right at the back of the 6,000-strong meeting on the movement and political parties. They had run out of translation headphones. I was in a group of five or six people with two headphones between us.

We were hanging on every word. All around us people were concentrating hard. I had a feeling that this is what it must be like in a revolution.'
Simon Hester, North London

One million voices call out in unity

'I SPOKE in an anti-war meeting. It was terrifying. There were about 3,000 people in the room. We held up our banner and talked about the significance of the 'Out Against the War' initiative for the lesbian and gay movement.

Everyone I know who attended has a gleam in their eyes. We can win. Things can change.'
Kate Richardson, Unison and Manchester 'Out Against the War'

'MY MOST lasting impression was the people who lined the streets to watch the march, and those who waved, cheered and hung banners from their windows. An old woman clapped and jumped with excitement at seeing the demonstration. Another younger black woman with her toddler stretched out from her window, waving enthusiastically and blowing kisses.'
Annette Lynch, London Metropolitan University

'THIS WAS the first anti-capitalist event I've been to abroad, and I thought it would be mainly young people. It was fantastic, though, to see so many older people. I saw partisans and veterans of historic battles against fascism.'
Angie Taylor, South London

'GIVEN THE size of the event, the chaos was inevitable and the debates sometimes frustrating. But the ESF has set the framework for the development of coordinated strategy across Europe, particularly in opposition to the war, but also over asylum seekers and racism.'
Alan Gibson, chair, Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers

'WHAT STRUCK me about the demo was the reception we received from the people of Florence. They were standing at the side of the demo, clapping and shaking people's hands. The people with tablecloths with 'Peace' written on them, hanging out the windows, cheering us on.'
Liz Roders, Greenock

'I HAVE never witnessed such an array of different groups all marching against the war from so many different places. Among the many banners draped from windows one stood out for me and summed up the spirit of Florence. It was a white blanket and painted across it was the word 'Grazie' - 'Thank you'.'
Raymond Morrell, Amicus-MSF

'THE HIGHLIGHT was the incredible million-strong demonstration, an explosion of colour and noise that captivated the city from 11am to the early hours of Sunday morning. It was a carnival with a message. We can draw from this in Britain. Demos shouldn't just be a protest at the state of the world - they should show a model for the future one.'
Michael Roberts, Spark, East Sussex

'I STARTED off joining 30 Argentinians marching into a press conference singing 'Get rid of them all', and ended up on a march of a million against the war. The Fiat car workers from Turin, striking and blockading a railway station, were headline news. They were receiving support from workers all over Italy, and went in militant mood to join the demo in Florence.'
Sally Bowen, South London

'THE DAY after the demo the political graffiti demonstrators had written on the wooden shutters of closed-down shops (no one defaced the stones of medieval buildings) became a tourist attraction. People from Florence gathered to read the slogans.'
Susie Helme, North London

Government hits back at movement

THE ITALIAN state has arrested around 40 key activists involved in the movement after Florence. They are accused of being members of a 'subversive group' that planned attacks in Genoa last year.

Among those arrested are Francesco Caruso, a leading figure in the Disobbidienti group, and Antonino Campenni, from the Cobas trade union national executive. Antonino toured Britain with Globalise Resistance last year.

Demonstrations took place in around 30 Italian cities and towns last Saturday.

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Article information

Sat 23 Nov 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1827
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