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Amber Paulen

Rome's Riots

17 October 2011


Last Saturday evening Simon and I walked home from Trastevere. At the Ponte Garibaldi my attention was pulled between black smoke rising from behind Isola Tiberina in the direction of our apartment, and the season’s first murmurations. We walked through Porta Ottavia and at Piazza Venezia we turned southeast down the Via Fori Imperiali. The street was empty but for the lineup of police and baby-blue police vans at the intersection with Via Cavour.

Via Fori Imperiali is eery when it’s empty, especially at dusk with smoke rising from behind the Colosseum. Tourists were out snapping photos of the Forum, but they were few. And I wondered if they were returning to their hotels or going to gape at the protest’s aftermath as part of Rome’s continuing tourist attractions. The police were dressed in riot gear, holding those plexiglass shields that would look more ridiculous if they didn’t have pistols. Behind the police vans were dwindling crowds streaming against us or sitting around, in the streets or on the corners.

We didn’t see much on Saturday so we went out yesterday to poke around. People were taking photos of burnt out cash points and graffiti and busted in bank windows and burnt out trash bins. And I was laughing at the misspellings and the effort it must have taken to bash glass and burn cars. Because after the passion has faded that drove the young men to violence, they look childish, as ridiculous as those police who were guarding nothing. They spoke without relaying a message. What do you want? Justice? A job? So you burn a car?

I’m a pacifist, slow and patient, because I know that if I want something I have to apply myself to it over a long period of time. I have never been the tantrum throwing type and I have never liked that kind of behavior, I find it reactionary, ridiculous. I can’t respect violence. Anarchy is wonderful when it is personal.

When I was younger and pissed off and sure that the revolution was upon us, I played with the question: would I have to fight to turn my ideas into action? Fighting is the absolute test of one’s beliefs; except when you are in war, then there’s no time to think. That’s the irony. I’ve come to realize that one can “fight” without immediate physical danger, in clear mental conditions, but that route requires lots of time, more thought, a different kind of persistence and courage.

Italians have a right to be angry, like most people on the planet. The injustices will continue to be issued from the rich and powerful until their whole structure can be over turned. But one day of violence isn’t going to do it. Those who are occupying Wall Street seem to have a much better chance of being heard, of getting people to see and pay attention to their messages. The real sickness of our society is in the people, in our distances and ignorance. It takes close scrutinization and bravery to locate then admit one’s contribution to human degeneration, and it takes more meditation to figure out what one wants to change, what is possible to change, in a brief lifespan. The names of the visionaries who have managed such a feat have gone down in history.

Burning cars is a quick fix that makes one feel as if they’ve “done something,” that they’re not just sitting around in ennui like every other complacent person. But is it true? Did the Black Bloc accomplish something? The banks need to get their windows fixed and Via Merulana needs some new trash bins and after the graffiti has been painted over, forgetful human nature will already have moved on to the new tragedy of the day.



Commentary for Rome's Riots


1 On Monday 17 October 2011 Mike Walker wrote:

“Anarchy is wonderful when it is personal.” Great line. Great piece.

2 On Monday 17 October 2011 Amber wrote:

Thanks Mike! I’m happy to see you’re still reading.

3 On Monday 17 October 2011 Vincent wrote:

There is some ongoing thing in London too, I have not been following it closely, but I heard one of the protesters being interviewed and agreed in general terms with what he said. But like you I can’t abide violence. To be honest the idea of camping out and being in the way for days on end doesn’t seem the right thing either. It’s a hammer when some very delicate tool or instrument is needed: one that can probe and grasp at an offending piece of the mechanism, rather than hit at the outside of the box.

It is actually very hard to probe and grasp at the offending pieces, because we are all implicated. Whatever our relationship with a bank – as borrower or lender – we are implicated with its behaviour. We wanted the best return on our savings. We wanted a loan on the best terms. As shareholders we wanted dividend. As employees etc etc. Sometimes I think we are powerless and only Mother Nature will be able to put us back into order, through some kind of punishment that perhaps unfairly hits us all, or hits worst those who have been least involved. this is the way things go. Then you think that China, without the burden of democracy, can act with greater unanimity towards defined and rational objectives; though cruelly of course. When has life not been cruel?

4 On Tuesday 25 October 2011 Sammy wrote:

Hi, thanks for this article.

I just wanted to ask you about your phrase: “I’ve come to realize that one can “fight” without immediate physical danger, in clear mental conditions, but that route requires lots of time, more thought, a different kind of persistence and courage.”

I would really like to know how you “fight” in these conditions?

5 On Wednesday 26 October 2011 Amber wrote:

Hi Sammy,
Thanks for your question! I would love the chance to explain my concept better. I believe I am talking about a cultured personal belief system (formed but open to changes) of resistance (to the status quo etc.) that can be acted upon in the everyday. I believe that small yet persistent acts of resistance have as much, if not more, effect in the long run.

A great example, of course, is writing. Writing has a chance to infect others with new ideas and to allow these ideas to be passed on, better than overt force. It still is a fight, just a silent one. The effort to ban books means that the written word is influential in ways those on top cannot control (except by drastic means).

Directly related to my post, if we stopped using banks, the system would fail. But, like Vincent wrote, they have a necessity in our lives. If a better solution to banks could be put into place then people might be interested in the fall of banks. But who’s going to come up with that solution and begin to build it? That takes a long time and a lot of patience!

6 On Wednesday 26 October 2011 Sammy wrote:

Hi, Amber, that makes sense. I do agree with you – and, personally, I have been trying to “think” more. Yet, it’s a lot harder than I imagined!

The more I ponder, the more marvellous I find social critics who callenge the status quo. It is so hard to put aside life’s burdens and pressures and the instinctive pull of avoidance and ignorance to actually think about the world around us.

So, yes, I think you’re absolutely right – “thinking” is a form of fighting. It involves resisting instinctive impulses to engage everything we see and hear with rational scrutiny… I think that if true thinking occurs, the action will naturally follow suit.

7 On Thursday 27 October 2011 Amber wrote:

Currently I’m reading Simone de Beauvoir’s first memoir, she was a super-thinker, always questioning her surroundings from such a young age. She went on to write books that changed lives. She amazes and inspires me, shows what thought can do.


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