One of my favorite sayings (I like saying it) is "Obama likes him a kerfuffle." It's in that sense that I picked the title for this little riff on Beppe Grillo, the Italian showman who's shaken up the establishment by having his group, the M5S, take 25% of the parliamentary seats in this week's elections in Italy.
I've been following Beppe Grillo ever since about 2005 when he started his blog, Beppe Grillo's Blog, in imitation of Howard Dean, whose Blog for America continued to organize political participation long after Dean's personal flameout on the presidential stage. Grillo has been compared to Dean, not just by me, but he's also been compared, in the New Yorker, to Michael Moore and Stephen Colbert. Why Senator Al Franken doesn't come to mind is a bit of a puzzlement. Perhaps it's because the latter has turned out to be a serious public servant.
Back in 2008, Grillo was definitely a colorful figure. In Tom Mueller's profile, which Grillo links to on his blog, he's represented as profane.
A large screen had been erected there, projecting the names of twenty-four convicted criminals currently serving as senators and representatives in the Italian parliament, or as Italian representatives in the European Parliament. Grillo read the names aloud, in alphabetical order, together with their crimes, which ranged from corruption, perjury, and tax evasion to more inventive infractions, such as fabricating explosive ordnance and aiding and abetting a murder. The crowd booed and jeered, raising their index and middle fingers in a V, for victory, or, whenever Grillo cried “Vaffanculo,” their middle fingers alone.I should mention here that, in keeping with Grillo's objection to people with criminal records serving in government, Grillo disqualified himself from public office because of a manslaughter conviction in connection with an auto accident in the 1980s. But, to continue:
“Paolo Cirino Pomicino!” Grillo shouted, citing a representative from Naples. “Corruption and illegal campaign financing—for which he was promoted to the parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission! One day, Cirino Pomicino wrote me a letter, and I called him. He said, ‘Mr. Grillo, you are making a fundamental mistake. You are confusing justice with politics.’ ” (Cirino Pomicino denied that this conversation took place.) Grillo paused. His face took on a look of wide-eyed surprise that gradually sagged into a mask of shock and sadness, then darkened into a scowl of disgust. “And I said to him, ‘Va-fan-culo!’ ”In reporting on the events of this week on his own blog, Beppe Grillo had this to say:
This adventure that we’re having is fantastic. First of all I just want to thank those extraordinary young people that made it possible to find the stages, the lights, the security services, the people that put us up in their homes, that have helped us with the camper. This is the difference between this grassroots movement and "the others". "The others" are paid and are carried around in buses with flags. We are all volunteers. This is why so many thanks are needed. I’ll never be able to show my appreciation enough for these young people: they have been incredible. Then we have had a full dress rehearsal for the result. People say that they are finished and they know that. We haven’t been aware that this is a generational war. What’s needed is to be able to vote at 16 years old and to be a Senate representative at age 18, as in normal countries.Before the votes were counted, but when it was suspected there would be an upset, the political pundits proclaimed that Grillo's people had no agenda. Perhaps that's because they don't like what they hear. For example, Grillo's people are unpaid. He says there's a hundred million (euro? lira?) available to cover the expenses of campaigning that he won't take. Furthermore:
We’ll start to do what we’ve always said - our stars: water in public hands, schools in public hands, public health service. If they follow us they follow us. If they don’t, the battle will be very harsh for them, very harsh. They cannot understand . They cannot conceive of things.I don't know what the other stars are, but public utilities, public schools and public health are upsetting when corporations are keen to privatize and take profit from the public purse. As I've said many times, "public" is a dirty word in the lingo of the Cons. It isn't just in the last two or three decades that public assets have been converted into private wealth. The railroad magnates and oil barons and coal barons all did that. In fact, I'd argue the only thing different now is that the ubiquitous use of money makes it possible for us to keep better track of the plunder that's going on. So, perhaps in that sense, I think Grillo is a little wrong. Money is a useful tool, as long as it's not abused.
Grillo's Blog is in English. Go read it for yourself. In a post entitled, "The rediscovery of being human," he writes:
“All the newspapers agree: Grillo has filled the historic Piazza San Giovanni with his young people. They’re young and inexpert and enthusiastic and life is returning. This is the humanity that has made history: the humanity that has ingenuously thrown itself at life, strengthened only by their enthusiasm, the conviction that to be human means dreaming, hoping, loving, enjoying and believing that it’s possible to succeed by working hard to realise one’s dream.How's that for a kindred spirit?
With these dreamers, we have come through the worst nightmare that the Italian people have ever experienced, in spite of their long history full of catastrophes: that of not having a future. Of not having what every person needs in the idea of the future: that it’ll be beautiful, joyful, new, different, full of life. Is it perhaps possible that having a balanced budget, even though it is considered to be indispensable, can really make up “The Future”? Is it perhaps possible that the European Central Bank, even though it may be willing to buy so many Italian bonds, can play the part of the Good Fairy? Enough, yes - enough! We absolutely need to go back and live the true life , that life that has always made the Italian people very rich even when they were poor: the ability to believe in the future, to believe in the beauty of their land, to have trust in their joyous and lucky “star”.
All this has been deliberately killed off. Buried in the lugubrious world of the priests of money, deaf and blind to anything other than the accumulation of the currency. Economists and bankers have become the masters of Europe and they have chosen Italy as the experimental centre of their power, where they are starting to take the place of politicians, who are by now, completely subservient and corrupt."
It's ironic, I think, that in adopting a single currency, the nations of Europe have moved into a predicament that our fifty states have been dealing with for some time and have thrown a light on the problem of having what is supposed to be a tool and a convenience (money) used, instead, to impose centralized control over the people. Money and the law, as the handmaidens of tyranny, can be ignored, but it's really hard.