Occupying the Colosseum

Elika Roohi/Special to the Sun Star
Nov. 15, 2011

How do nearly 2000-year-old ruins relate to the people on Wall Street proclaiming that they are the 99 percent? Occupy Wall Street has gone global.

In mid-September, the first Occupy Wall Street protest occurred in New York City. The people who attended were fed up with the way that there has been an increased concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent of the population since the 1970s. Within the first month, Occupy Wall Street inspired protests in nearly 70 major US cities and 600 smaller communities. They started catching on in the rest of the world.

Since the housing bubble burst in 2008, more than just the United States was affected economically. The economies of countries everywhere struggle to catch up to where they used to be.

Italy is a good example of a country that needs some political and economic change. The former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi dominated Italian politics since he was elected in 1994. In addition to having complete control of the media and the government, Berlusconi is currently on trial for corruption, tax fraud and a sex scandal involving a minor.

Italians are like any other national group in that they love their country and are proud of their heritage. But all the Italians I’ve talked to in the last two months tell me that they are disgusted by Berlusconi. Berlusconi stepped down on Nov. 12, prompting celebration in the streets. Economist Mario Monti has been nominated to take his place.

In addition to watching their corrupt government fall to pieces, the economy in Italy is going nowhere fast. Greece may be the star of the euro crisis, but Italy is an important supporting actor. Italy has a huge debt, about 127 percent of its GDP. If interest rates keep going up on Italian bonds, the country won’t be able to repay its debt unless it makes major reforms, and fast.

Italians are fed up with their failing government and their failing economy. They took a page out of the Arab Spring’s and Occupy Wall Street’s book and took to the streets of Rome in mid-October. This resulted in some of the most violent protests this fall.
Rome was more riot than protest. Italian police fired tear gas and water cannons into a crowd that was smashing shop and bank windows, torching cars and throwing bottles. Dozens were hospitalized.

I happened to be in Rome when all this was going on. An odd mixture filled the streets in front of the Colosseum: tourists trying to snap a picture of Italy’s most famous ancient amphitheater and rioters smashing bottles. The people of Italy are ready for change.

Alex Domenico is a university student in Florence. He moved here five years ago with his mother from Romania because Italy pays higher wages than Romania does. But recently, it’s been a lot harder to make a living in Florence.

“The call themselves Los Indignados,” Domenico said about the protesters in Rome. “It’s Spanish, and I think it makes them sound more angry than they actually are. They just want change.”

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