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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/13/09

Yes We Camp

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Message Stephanie Westbrook

While waiting for a regional bus, I asked people what they thought of holding the G8 in L'Aquila. Not a single person had anything positive to say. The most common criticism was the inappropriateness of using the tragedy as a backdrop for the international summit, especially so soon after the earthquake. Others talked about how the G8 was bringing more inconvenience to people who were already suffering, with roads closures and the blocking of internet and cell phone service for the duration of the summit. In addition, the frenetic 24-hour work being done to prepare the city for the G8 took vital resources away from the reconstruction work that would help get people back into their homes before the cold of winter hits this city in the mountains.

However, it wasn't just with the G8 that more control and restrictions were imposed on the citizens of L'Aquila. As the residents of the tent camps began to recover from the shock of the earthquake and started organizing to demand a role in the rebuilding of their city, new rules came into effect. In an attempt to stifle dissent, distributing flyers was forbidden within the camps as was organizing assemblies and meetings. As Renato of the Abruzzo Social Forum noted, "The upcoming G8 summit was then used as an excuse to crush any dissent in L'Aquila."

But organize they did. In part thanks to the space set up in a public park by the 3e32 committee, the only place in L'Aquila where people can gather outside the tent camps and where everyone can come and go as they please no check points! There is a main tent for events, meetings, concerts and theatre as well as an internet point and a fair trade shop.

On July 7, the day before the official start of the G8, the citizens committees organized an all-day forum. Local residents as well as people from all over Italy gathered under the 3e32 tent to talk about the reconstruction, both physical and social, of L'Aquila.

The central focus of the citizens committees is the 100% Campaign, which calls for 100% reconstruction of the city, 100% participation on the part of the local residents in the decisions that affect the city, 100% transparency regarding how reconstruction money is spent.

The funds thus far authorized by the Italian government are deemed to be insufficient to rebuild the city. If compared to the 1997 earthquake in Umbria, with more than twice the number of people left homeless, the government has authorized 20% less for the reconstruction of L'Aquila, or Euro 5.7 billion. Adding insult to injury, the Italian parliament just recently approved the purchase of 131 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets for a total of Euro 13 billion. It is not yet clear who Italy intends to bomb.

In addition, the Italian government has handed down a decision made with no local input to build new housing on privately owned property outside the city expropriated from small landowners, changing forever the urban makeup of the city and risking the abandonment of the historic center. In other words, creating suburbs around a medieval city! The local residents are fighting to keep their city in tact. In fact, the second part of the 'Yes We Camp' slogan is 'But we won't go away.'

Berlusconi, as owner of three private television channels and in control of the three public channels, has managed to create a very different image of L'Aquila. Antonello talked about a recent trip with his family to the seaside, where he was told, "You people from L'Aquila are so lucky! You get free meals. You're going to have free houses. Berlusconi has solved all your problems and you have the nerve to complain!" It was reminiscent of Barbara Bush's comments on the people living in the Astrodome in Houston, Texas after hurricane Katrina.

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Stephanie Westbrook is a U.S. citizen who has been living in Rome, Italy since 1991. She is active in the peace and social justice movements in Italy.
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