Tag Archives: state department

My State Department Lectures in Italy: Activism and Change

Reblogged with permission from IFYC.org

On my recent speaking tour in Italy, I presented six lectures in eight days to NGO representatives, ethnic media journalists, and minority community leaders to discuss best practices for social web tools and movement-building in general. In an earlier post I wrote about some of the big conversations that I had with Italians, but now that I’m removed from the tour by a few weeks, I’ve ferreted out a few more reflections about what I saw and heard.

1. The extensive history/proliferation of civil society organizations (NGOs, regional/city nonprofits, etc.) in the United States is not mirrored in Italy, with the exception of faith-based institutions. The Catholic Church has done that heavy lifting for a while, apparently. American social sector development as of late has revolved around the buzzword “collaboration,” and this movement is gaining traction in Italy, too. Italian nonprofits are finding each other and working together. Organizations promoting dialogue and/or action with the “other” will have to struggle at first, but there is plenty of room to grow.

2. At times during Q&A sessions, my audiences were quite vocally frustrated with the glacial pace of reform in Italy. They described cases of personal and community discrimination. They heaped scorn upon Italian media for its complicity in promoting xenophobia, and wondered why other Italians weren’t interested in having simple dialogue with them. These conversations could just as easily have taken place in America. I felt that frustration, which seems a dominant undercurrent in young people globally. We’ve got all these tools and all of this intelligence and the capacity to network across vast distances to solve huge problems, but we’re held back by old (and generally white) men.

3. The Arab Spring offered a glimpse of these frustrated young people employing social media to organize, share, and connect. Let’s not forget the other examples of the powerful nexus of protest movements, youth, and social media: Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Colombia, England, China, and Occupy. The increase of social web density across the world will have an incredibly powerful impact on how we run future mass information campaigns. This is not only about “flattening” and democratizing media; I think that the real change zone will be bringing people together around issues of common concern. I spoke about this in a web video filmed during my last lecture in Milan. In a place like Egypt, for instance, which has clear minority and majority populations in terms of religion, class, and education, social tools allow people to promote a common cause (in this case, revolution) without having to agree personally on everything else. Digital coalitions, perhaps?

It’s like an analogy of interfaith work: We may not all have the same idea of what happens when we die, but we can certainly work together on the important things before then.

I was stunned at the readiness of the young Italians that I met. They won’t stop agitating for full representation and civil rights. They may have Moroccan or Senegalese or Romanian ancestry, but they are Italian through and through. I especially sensed (and observed firsthand) young Catholics’ eagerness to work with their fellow Italians across faith lines. The country’s de facto gerontocracy, and the frustration that young people feel as a result of it, has brought them together just as much as issues of civil rights. There is change in Italy’s future, and it will come from the second-generation children of immigrants.