The view from here: NoTAV eyewitness account

The view from here: NoTAV eyewitness account

Another march took place in the heart of the Susa valley on Saturday March 23, 2013, organised by the NoTAV people together with local authorities and other local bodies, which have been part of this struggle since the beginning.

Many people, perhaps as many as 40,000, took part in the day of protest. This has been the case for several years now – since the term “NoTAV” changed from meaning “protest against the new high-speed railways between Lyons and Turin” to “developing a new model of managing the common good”. Taking part were people of all ages and political affiliations (associations, groups, movements, organizations, activists and union organizers, producers, consumers, retirees), all representing that part of society which is concerned to safeguard the common good.

Anarchists and political organizations were present too.
The way in which political organizations took part was the biggest change in the 2013 protests. Political parties have been involved and active for some time. This time, though, some of these groups (especially the M5S and SEL) not only joined the actual march but were also present at the many supporting and other events. This was in their official capacity as representatives of the elected Parliament. They represented a large part of the two parliamentary chambers. And that is no small thing at all.

One of the “official” participants, describing herself as a “consultant from the institutions”, had some interesting observations to make. She was part of the large body of deputies and senators who inspected the site during the morning, situated a few kilometers along the route of the march. During this visit, she noticed quite a change in roles: the people who were now opening gates and fences were the very same people who, a few months back, had been involved in instigating violence, dispersing crowds, charging sits-in and rallies, beating people with sticks, letting off teargas, and even chasing people up high-voltage pylons. Here, we are obviously talking about Luca Abbà who, about a year ago, was chased by the police up a high-voltage pylon as he was attempting to resist the expropriation of his own farmland for the building site. Well, after a week fighting death, after a month fighting for the hope of regaining a normal life, after a year struggling with physiotherapy and after the election of a new parliament, Luca Abbà was among the group of consultants inspecting the building site. If this isn’t change …

The march of 40,000 people went off without a hitch and without scenes of wild euphoria. Once again, the 40,000 conveyed the impression of being solid and confident in their own capabilities. Their tenacity and strength should concern those who, for 23 years, have been looking for excuses to refuse to recognise them as legitimate spokespeople.

From our man in the field*

Yesterday the NoTAV struggle burst out into its umpteenth march, with solid participation as well as rather annoying rain (which did provide compensation by making the procession speed along more quickly).
They’d been talking about it for months in the valley: torchlit processions, pickets, demonstrations, banners, walks in the Clarea valley, festivals, theatrical shows, organising debates, meetings, conferences, presentations, taking part in events outside the valley, clearing up footpaths, supporting and caring for people who are in custody or in hospital, camping, sports events, philosophy lessons (or geology or economics or climatology), polenta parties, building new garrisons, editions of new books, site and communications management, spreading out sheets on the mountain side which say in letters a foot high TAV=MAFIE (TAV=MAFIAS) … everything (and I’m forgetting at least as much again).
Yes, that’s all very well but when was there going to be a good old march?
Because a NoTAV march in the Susa Valley is like the final of a tennis tournament on the centre court, it’s like when the main band comes on stage after four or five support bands, it’s like that page where you know you are about to find out who the murderer is, it’s like the orgasm after months of preliminaries.
So, at last, the date is finalised. Quickly, you have to check the calendar to see if you’re around and keep it free, just to be sure: the trip to Burgundy can be ditched, helping friends to move house is postponed, I’ll take time off work, and we can give Giulia’s confirmation a miss!
You need to let other people know, too, as soon as possible: if you realize you’ve spread the news faster than the rumors – that is, your friend who lives “out of the province” doesn’t know yet – you feel like a hero.
This role doesn’t last long in the valley. The friends from “out of the province” make the illusion last longer, though. The closer you get to the big day, the more phone calls you keep receiving. Friends ask you logistical questions: Where should I park my car? How do I get there by train? Will they have a checkpoint again? Is there a shuttle? Should I bring some of that red wine you liked so much last year?

The ritual for the day has many steps. You’ll need to charge both your camera batteries – each one allowing you to take pictures for three days in a row – even if you’ll end up not using them at all; you will clean your trekking shoes, choosing the softest pair you have; you’ll leave one of your walking sticks in the closet and take the other one out. On the top you will proudly pin your NoTAV flag, with all its “marks” (about which you can’t really brag as you’d like to: yes, thorns in the woods have ripped it in some places, but it’s mostly stains and burns from when you use the flag as a cloth for your summer picnics). Finally, the ritual requires you to prepare the tools that you’ll need for the steepest slopes in the valley.
From that moment on, you are left with your hope, the hope that many people will show up. And we’re always surprised by the fact that people, many people, do show up.
Many people, and many chats, greetings, goodbyes; many pats on the back and many hands shaken: just try and imagine gathering all the friends you have, and some enemies too, and having to see all of them in four hours. It’s exhausting.
For as many people you’ll get to see, there are as many you won’t have a chance to see. You’ll call some of them – your dearest friends – the next day, to hear if they managed not to get too wet.
Plus, there are the people you meet for the first time. It always happens. For instance, there’s that person you’ve noticed at least twice at your favorite restaurant; they also like that food, they’re also marching today, so the next time you’ll probably sit at the same table. There is the customer who stopped by your garage the day before; from now on, he’ll be a “loyal customer”, as people in marketing like to say. And not to mention that person you’ve seen around so many times, but you don’t remember where: he answers your look, and you understand he’s also thinking the same thing, he’s also seen you around so many times, but he doesn’t remember where. You finally greet each other, just assuming the other person has finally realized where they met you – and who cares if it’s not true.

Who knows how many of us are here? Who knows how the demo is going? Does it really matter? Well, today it doesn’t.
We arrive from Bussoleno, and we finally get to the head of the march, which leaves at 2:30 PM. I greet the mayor of my town, I greet the local administrators who are marching right behind; we need to wait for some friends who are coming from “out of the province” and who will meet us at the hospital. We will actually meet – if I remember correctly – forty-five minutes later. One more banner passes, and finally my friends are here – we’ll do this demo together.
Once again, there are so many of us. It’s six of us, marching. Our group is much faster and skinnier than those holding banners; we slowly pass them.
So many banners look familiar: Rifiuti zero, Legambiente, Pronatura, No al raddoppio del Frejus, No dal molin, Acab, about a dozen communist flags, all different and yet all looking the same. Of course, there are the perfectly done ones from Florence. For the first time, I manage to see the group from Modena – but who knows how many marches they’ve taken part in already. People from Savoy, and from some other places beyond the Alps are also present.

All accents from Eastern Italy are represented in the march – and since we are in the far west of Italy, for us “the East” begins at Turin. And the same for those who come from the shin, the ankle, the heel and the toe of the Boot (and its islands). I’m not talking about hybrid accents like mine – people who have moved up North to work, by necessity; I’m talking about pure accents, of people who’ve crossed Italy just to come and march in the pouring rain. It’s really touching.
In 2006, I remember I felt enthusiastically compelled to get close to all those I didn’t recognize as “locals,” to thank each and every one of them for being there with us. One of them answered me, “I’m here for everyone”. I felt ashamed for not understanding it sooner. Since then, I don’t thank them any more. Since then, I just enjoy it.

*This post was originally written the day after the NoTAV protest march on 23 March 2013.

Sources and previous coverage available here.