Interview with White Overalls spokeperson post Genoa 2001 riots in Il Manifesto

Luca Casarini

"When you see an armoured police vehicle coming your way, you run or react in the same way you react when you see a gun pointed at you. We, in Genova, in Via Tolemaide, built a barricade to safeguard our well-being. For three hours we reacted against police attacks. We along with lots of others. Carlo died while defending himself against attacks by the paramilitary carabinieri.. At the same time, he was there along with thousands of men and women to affirm that "another world is possible".

Luca Casarini, spokesperson for the group of social centers [centri-sociali] in the northeast of Italy, charismatic member of the Tute bianche, one of the driving forces of the Genoa Social Forum, does not have tempered words about the days in Genoa. " There is a huge difference between those who construct a barricade to defend themselves and those who decide to militarily supress a large scale movement, such as the one against economic globalization. The former affirms the right to change a reality that produces misery and exploitation. the latter defends the G8 which is an illegitimate organization that wants to decide the destiny of the world ignoring the desires and hopes of those who inhabit it."

In Genoa we have seen the end of political mediation between movements and institutions. I am thinking of the month in which the Genoa Social Forum (GSF) carried out direct negotiations with the government, during which time the oppositional, center-left members of parliament said nothing of significance. Or the implosion of a party like the DS...

To speak of death is sad after what happened to Carlo. Yes, in Genoa the institutional left died. Try to imagine the embarassment of the center-left which helped prepare for the G8 summit and then finds itself face to face with the images of brutal beatings and Carlo laying dead on the asphalt. They stammer and are speechless. And yet, preparation for the G8 was their thing. We have attempted to analyze the global government. We talked about Empire or better yet the imperial logic of the global government. This means erosion of national sovereignty. Not an end but erosion and reshaping itself into a global, imperial system. In Genoa we saw the warlike way in which this manifested itself. How to oppose this imperial system is a burning question which we were ill-prepared to answer.

Il Manifesto: It seems to me that the Tute Bianche are also finished.

Ended. That's a bit too strong. Exhausted perhaps, the conclusion of a phase, certainly. The tute bianche was an experiment which attempted to make the idea of conflict legitimate again. Try to picture the Genoa Social Forum. There are Catholics and us, the Arci, the Cobas, the Lilliput Network, Drop the Debt and Fiom. A powerful mixture. We acted as the main driving force without trying to gain hegemony. As tute bianche we have covered a lot of ground and questioned ourselves as to what we were doing. A positive experience but one which now seems inadequate to deal with the imperial system that faces us, where politics is the continuation of war and not vice-versa, as Karl von Clausewitz has written. Think about the Balkans, Palestine, Africa.

Many people forecast that that this autumn we will enter a delicate phase of social struggle. Workers who have seen the Cisl and the Uil sign a humiliating contract and the Fiom who has called for a general strike. Then schools that have become businesses, hospitals that treat health like merchandise...

It's these last factors that bring me to say that the phase of civil disobedience has been exhausted. Now that needs to change into social disobedience. It needs to be noted that all aspects of the Genoa Social Forum are in a state of crisis. But this does not mean paralysis so much as a recognition of the limits of its analysis, perspective and political agenda. That social forums are created in every city is positive, that they form alliances is fundamental. Even if I prefer to think not about alliances but a social process in which the movement becomes a magnet that exercises its influence on social forms and realities through a distance. Think about what happened in Genova with attorneys and volunteer healthworkers. Lawyers who were certainly democrats but certainly not close to the Genoa Social Forum, who after having discussed the matter, decided to wear shirts with " Union of Democratic Lawyers" inscribed on them and to come to the demonstration; these same lawyers argue with genovese lawyers after the police beatings grew into the hundreds and had them write a harsh document about the workings of the government to the Department on Criminal Matters. Or look at the experience of the nurses and doctors who looked after those who had been beaten and then got beaten themselves by the police forces. Two positive examples of networks that developed as a result of being drawn to the theme of the movement.

This doesn't mean that all is going so smoothly. We find ourselves faced with a tough difficult reality which must be understood and analyzed anew. It's not fascism but a change of state form which lends itself to a profound transformation in the means of producing wealth and subjectivity. And that is on a global level. Think about what happened on the streets of Genoa. It seemed like a riot not a street demonstration. This needs to be understood, analyzed. I am not talking about the "Black Block" obviously but about those that fought back. The so-called "Black Block" should not be incriminated though. They are people who believe that to attack capitalism it suffices to break windows. That's their "Smash Capitalism". We think otherwise. We think in terms of a process of social transformation where "the network of several networks" becomes a magnet which grows in strength and favors the birth of other social networks.

Il Manifesto: I think that it's right to posit that after Genoa "nothing is the same as before". But for you, what has changed?

I ask that you revisit the days of Friday the 20th and Saturday the 21st. Or better the photo that the weekly "Carta" and then you, "Il Manifesto" published. It was done by Tano D'amico and shows how already in Via Tolemaide, well before Carlo was killed, the police [carabinieri] had pulled out their pistols from the holsters against us. This shows the militaristic position of the government toward the anti-G8 demonstration. The police charged violently. We fought back and I stand behind our response as a political fact. Nonetheless, for us to also take up militaristic tactics would b crazy and political suicide. At Genoa there were all the forces of order, the army, the Secret Services of the eight most powerful - both economically and militarily-nations on the planet. Our movement cant measure up with that type of military power. We would be crushed within three months. Therefore we have to find a third way between those who reject economic globalization and those who opt for a symbolic gesture, like demolishing a bank.

Il Manifesto: There are those who argue that Via Tolemanide was a trap into which you fell...

Was there naivite on our part? Maybe. But I see it in another way. As Tute Bianche, we signed a pact with the Genoa Social Forum and we respected it. In the preparatory meeting for the day of "disobedience (Friday, 20th) we never hid our intention to violate the Red Zone. We were even clear about what instruments we would use. We didn't carry clubs or attack weapons. We didn't even wear white overalls, a decison discussed at length among ourselves at Carlini Stadium.. I think that it was right to do so because when you immerse yourself in a networked reality such as this movement, the important ingredient is not the demands of one group as much as the "contamination" between different groups who nonetheless share a common goal. If in Genoa we were naive, then this is how we were naive: remaining faithful to the pact, respecting those who thought differently from us but who like us wanted to achieve an objective. Was it a trap? Yes, set there to ensnare the entire movement.

In the past, it has been written that the Tute bianche were faking it. That confronting the police was a gag. There were those who went to the point of saying that we had some kind of agreement with the police forces. It has never been so. Two, three years ago we thought at length about how to act in a conflict without it becoming destructive. Our technique was different: we stated publicly what we wanted to do, letting it be known that if the police attacked us, we would defend ourselves only with shields and padding. It was our rule because it was essential that we create conflict and consensus about the objectives that we set-up for ourselves. In Genoa we expected that more or less the same thing as usual would happen. They deceived us. Try and remember the meetings of the Genoa Social Forum with Scajola and Ruggiero: none of the guidelines agreed upon were respected by them. The police forces used firearms, even though they had assured us that they would not be. The right to demonstrate which Ruggiero agreed was an inalienable right was run over under the wheels of the armored police cars.

Il Manifesto: And now?

For me it is essential to start from what has been called "The Carlini Laboratory". Intense experience. It taught me a lot. For example, how to build a public space where "multitude" was not just a word but a shared political constuction by the "disobedient".

Translated by Thomas Seay, November 9, 2001

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