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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/13/09

Yes We Camp

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Message Stephanie Westbrook

It's the slogan of the citizens committees that have formed in the central Italian city of L'Aquila, hit by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake on April 6, 2009. And it was on display for world leaders during the G8 summit being held just outside the city in an area off limits to the local people.

On the morning of July 8, as the Group of Eight leaders began arriving in L'Aquila, activists scaled the hill overlooking the red zone and laid out huge sheets of white plastic to form 10-meter high letters reading 'Yes We Camp.' As Mattia Lolli of the 3e32 Committee, which takes its name from the time the earthquake hit, explained, "We want to make sure the G8 leaders as well as public opinion in Italy know that three months after the earthquake there are still over 22,000 people living in tents."

The G8 summit was originally to take place on the island of Sardinia. On April 23, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's scandal ridden prime minister, made the surprise announcement that it would be moved to L'Aquila, saying it would put the world's spotlight on the devastated city. But that's not how it is seen by local residents, who are still mourning the loss of friends and loved ones 300 people died in the quake as well as their homes and their city.

Among the first events organized by the citizens committees on the occasion of the G8 summit was a candlelit march the night of June 6, the three-month anniversary of the earthquake, to remember the victims and "shed light on the responsibilities."

I arrived in L'Aquila with a group of over 40 people from Vicenza, Italy, where local residents have been working for more than three years to block construction of a new U.S. military base. Despite having worked tirelessly for weeks to organize a national demonstration just the day before on July 4th, the No Dal Molin movement in Vicenza was able to fill an entire bus for the seven-hour ride to L'Aquila, intent on showing their solidarity with the local people who, like those in Vicenza, are working to defend their city.

The march started at midnight, with 5000 people holding candles illuminating what everyone remarked is now a ghost town. Only 23,000 of the 70,000 residents remain in the city nearly all of them living in the tent camps while the others have been sent to hotels on the coast. "L'Aquila is Italy's New Orleans" commented Francesca, a CodePink activist from California who was in Italy for the No Dal Molin demonstration.

Unlike most Italian marches, there were no signs, flags or banners, aside from one with the names of victims and another with two simple but effective words, 'Truth and Justice,' a demand seen as "the best way to keep the memory of those who are no longer with us alive." The silence was broken only by the inappropriate sound of helicopters flying overhead monitoring this most peaceful of marches.

The police and military presence in L'Aquila had been on the increase as the G8 approached. Officers with machine guns were present at every intersection and citizens are subjected to what one 70-year-old woman referred to as "check points." As I walked through the city in the pre dawn hours following the march, the number of police and military vehicles on the streets was overwhelming.

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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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