By Arianna Belluardo
On June the 20th the candidate I had campaigned for three weeks straight lost the local elections in my home city, Rome, in my neighbourhood. I was there as a scrutineer, in one of the most crowded voting spots of the area, witnessing the procedure. I was there when my friend came to me while we were counting the votes, looked me in the eyes and told me, “we lost, we won’t make it.”
After weeks of distributing leaflets, calling friends to inquire, “Hey, I know we haven’t seen each other in a while, but look I’m campaigning and I would appreciate your help.” This was followed by a meeting and then preparing for the next event, the next encounter, the next dinner. Then, it all ended, in two seconds it was over.
To be honest, I sensed something the morning of the 20th. “I have this feeling”, I kept saying, “I have this feeling in my gut that we are going to lose”, in the end, I was proven right. During the day, I kept wondering what impact losing could have on me. What was I going to do if everything I did, we did, had proven to be useless, unnecessary?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a step back.
I was always passionate about politics. I went from marching with my parents in elementary school to participate in protests with my friends in high school. It always gave me a kind of rush, a boost of adrenaline for the whole day, marching was my favourite thing to do for a very long time. After a while, I lost that passion, I became cynical towards politics, I could not see a purpose in marching like I used to. Every battle seemed lost and I was not willing to fight anymore. I kept asking whoever might be involved in politics: “how do you do it? How do you keep fighting?” I was craving for an answer that would suit me as well. However, everyone I asked had a different opinion, one even said “you know what? I have no idea”.
Sometimes, caring can make you miserable. Especially when you do not see any effort being done about what you are protesting for. I have seen this a lot, for instance with climate change. It is a complicated issue, and the more you learn about it, the more you understand how much the situation has escalated and how ugly it is going to get. The more you know; the angrier you get; the more you demand action. The more you demand and do not receive any, the more you become miserable. Of course, this does not happen for everyone. Some people manage to wake up every day and find the energy to fight for what they mostly care about. Unfortunately, that did not happen to me. At least, not when I was an activist.
I feel like I started advocating when I was rather young, and now I see, in person and on social media, more people acquiring knowledge and speaking up for what they deem important. On one hand, I am glad to see more people acting and rising against global injustice, on the other hand, I find it almost impossible to relate to them.
That is when being in a political party started to appeal to me. There is a huge difference between doing politics and doing activism. Allegedly, activists signal a problem, politicians solve it. Often the roles overlap, and when they do, they might not function properly. Politicians are not supposed to advocate, activists are not supposed to provide solutions, “when an activist becomes a politician, society loses the former to gain the latter. The reverse is also true. There are exceptions but they are rare.” (Bob Kerrey, 2016, par. 3).
An example of this can be traced back to January 2020, when the “Sardine” movement emerged in Italy, with the original purpose of protesting against the right-wing main leader Matteo Salvini. The context was crucial, as regional elections in Emilia Romagna were approaching, a region in the north-centre of Italy which is known to be “a red region” (a left-wing territory). The movement became instantly popular all around the country, inspiring protests in several locations mirroring the first one in Bologna. When the mass media realised what potential the movement could have, they started wondering what could happen if they entered politics. A whole debate was started on what role the movement could take, whether they should create their own party, or join the main left-wing Italian party. However, the movement was formed by young activists with noble intentions but no clue on how politics works at a certain level, proving that having good ideas does not make you a politician, even if you appear on national tv being called one. After the regional elections, which were eventually won by the left-wing candidate, the movement basically disappeared. Stepping out of their original role was revealed to be a wrong choice, which also left the citizens’ opinions divided on whether the movement deserved their initial appreciation.
Once I realised that, I came to the conclusion that by being an activist, I was only pushing from outside. Politics was like a box, and I was outside trying to break it. But, as sometimes happens, things are easier to break if you start kicking from the inside. If activism is pushing, then being in a political party is pulling. So, I started pulling.
I would not say that being a militant inside a political party made me less cynical, it just made me change my perspective. At 17, it is almost like I locked myself in an ivory tower, where I could see things from a distance and not care, being in a political party opened a window.
I thought that losing the local elections was going to push me indefinitely away from politics. I had worked hard for weeks and losing was undoubtedly hard. However, that window is still open, after three years of being a militant I finally see that I am being rewarded. I do not regret having been an activist, I am firmly convinced that activists are necessary, and that naming and shaming sometimes does the job better than a million politicians’ words. However, activism was transitory for me, it was a necessary step to get to something bigger. Something that hopefully will help me keep that window open.
Kerrey, B. 2016. Activists and Politicians Represent Two Different and Important Roles. New York Times, retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/02/08/can- activists-be-politicians/activists-and-politicians-represent-two-different-and- important-roles-
Edited by Gunvir S. Paintal, artwork by Mira Kurtovic