January 26, 2023
Ultima Generazione's non-violent civil resistance unites people concerned about the future
the voice of Michele Giuli, co-founder of Ultima Generazione, interviewed by Adil Mauro
Over the past few weeks, the activists of Ultima Generazione have tried to bring the issue of eco-climatic collapse to the attention of public opinion through their actions. As can be read on their website, it is a 'campaign of non-violent civil disobedience that since 2021 unites ordinary citizens concerned about their own future and that of those who will come after us'.
From roadblocks to washable paint thrown on works of art and institutional buildings, Ultima Generazione's protests have two objectives: 'to stop the reopening of decommissioned coal-fired power stations and cancel the project of new drilling for natural gas exploration and extraction; to proceed immediately to an increase in solar and wind energy of at least 20 GW and to create thousands of new jobs in renewable energy, helping fossil industry workers to find employment in more sustainable jobs'.
For Senate President Ignazio La Russa, the smearing of the facade of Palazzo Madama with washable paint on the morning of 2 January 2022 is 'an act that offends all institutions'. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure Matteo Salvini, commenting on the action of 15 January in Milan (of the paint on the base of the work L.O.V.E. - the middle finger - by the artist Maurizio Cattelan in Piazza degli Affari, in front of the Stock Exchange building), said that 'these are not environmentalists but vandals who deserve to go to jail'. Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi foresaw 'new regulatory interventions' to hinder Ultima Generazione's initiatives.
'From politics, the only commitment seems to be towards a tightening of repression instead of concrete work to counter the climate crisis', says Ultima Generazione activist Simone Ficicchia. The Pavia Police Headquarters had requested the assignment of preventive measures of special surveillance for Ficicchia, but the request was rejected on 19 January by the judges of the Court of Milan. 'The actions implemented by Simone, due to the way they were carried out and the motivations behind them, do not constitute an indication of social dangerousness; hence the rejection of the requested preventive measure, which, if accepted, would have constituted a very serious precedent', explained Gilberto Pagani, Ficicchia's lawyer.
The relationship with politics, the issue of repression and the objectives of Ultima Generazione are the focus of our conversation with Michele Giuli, one of the founders of the campaign.
Q: Can you tell us what Ultima Generazione is and how it came into being?
A: Ultima Generation is an organisation of ordinary people who are trying to do more things. We are trying to bring the model of classic civil resistance, the uncompromising one inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, back to several western countries at the same time, but also strategically designed with gradual steps to bring about a clear and radical change in society. We call for measures to lower CO2 emissions over the next three years because beyond that we will pass some windows of time where the damage will become irreversible. Finally, Last Generation is all of us, not just an organisation of 50 to 60 ordinary people. This project was born in October 2021 by six people, including me, who were coming out of Extinction Rebellion Italia with frustration and different views on many aspects. To say how common the people who created this reality are: I am 27 years old, until a year and a half ago I was a university student and I was a (precarious) teacher in high school. Besides me, there is a precarious veterinarian, an unemployed person, two farmers and a girl with serious health problems that have prevented her from re-entering the world of work. These are the people who created Ultima Generazione.
Q: Your actions in this period are being put under the magnifying glass. We would like to try to turn the question around. What is politics doing to tackle the climate and ecological crisis in Italy?
A: Very little, very little. Let's say that something is actually changing and it concerns the amount of renewables being released. Then of course you can't be naive: not all renewables are 'good' and not all the market is clean. There is also interest from organised crime and it is quite well known, but the transition must be made anyway. Let's also remember that Italy spent 42 billion on fossil fuel-related activities, works and projects in 2021. This is something that those who govern could change tomorrow because there is not even some trade agreement to prevent this kind of subsidy from being passed. It is something that can be done with any budget law. The point then is not what the policy is not doing, but what it is doing to continue the fossil industry's domination of a market that has nothing free about it. The state puts its hands heavily inside the market to benefit the fossil fuel industry with investments that are gigantic compared to those being made on renewables, circular communities, recycling, decentralisation of urban centres. People need to understand how their money is being used.
Q: The government has made harsh judgments about you. The oppositions on the other hand?
A: The 5 Stars movement show enormous hypocrisy. Openly they have said almost nothing, secretly they write about it. Without naming names, there is someone in the movement who told us 'come and throw paint at me so I can show that I accept this and then we'll see which other politicians do the same' and my reaction was 'do you want to advertise yourself? Unione Popolare and De Magistris really came out in support of our actions. Even Fratoianni of Sinistra Italiana. Now the Democratic Party after some initial attacks is changing its attitude, but it tends to avoid expressing itself on what we do. Some time ago Pierfrancesco Majorino (PD MEP and candidate for regional president in the upcoming elections in Lombardy), during a television programme with one of our activists present, used the slogan that is becoming famous 'we must look at the moon and not the finger', adding 'let's talk about electric cars'. Too bad we don't talk about electric cars. At the moment it seems that the oppositions are using us, avoiding both judgement and support. They remain in that somewhat qualunquistic position in which we perform a media function. The media function means that if you attract attention at that moment, you can talk about us to draw attention to yourself. Nevertheless, behind the scenes there is a search for contacts. We are starting to engage in dialogue: we are not going to sign up anywhere, but we obviously have to dialogue with these people.
Q: What do you say to those commentators from the so-called progressive area who invite you to abandon your forms of protest in order to do politics and perhaps contribute to the creation of a green party?
A: Ultima Generazione will never do this. Personally, I don't think it is wrong. Certainly, if I Michele Giuli were to create a party, it would not be a progressive or green party, but a revolutionary party for social justice for people. I agree that at some point there will be a need to gather political consensus in a truly serious and well-organised force with very clear ideas that is lacking now. I just think it is too early. It seems to me that people are finally starting to get angry and this is a project that must lead to widespread civil resistance in the population even within a few months, if possible a year. If it were done now, if we left what we are doing for two pages of newspapers, we would burn everything down. For us it is only the beginning. It doesn't make sense, public opinion hasn't changed so much yet to be able to think about capitalising.
Q: They called you an 'extremist movement'. After arrests, travel warrants and summary trials, there was also a request for special surveillance for Simone Ficicchia.
A: What happened to Simone, a 20-year-old student, is that he received an invitation from the Pavia Police Headquarters to appear in court for the application of the anti-mafia code for special surveillance. Special surveillance was a custom of the Rocco Code, then a fascist code, and was exhumed in 2011 for special cases (it should be applied to mafiosi and terrorists). This measure stipulates that a person can be placed under restriction of his or her freedom even without a final conviction and without reporting a crime. This is not the case for Simone, who has many complaints, but they are all non-violent offences. The police suspect that he is the leader of the organisation. It is an argument that has no logic because there is no evidence. Our organisation does not have a pure verticality, but a healthy balance between centralisation and decentralisation. There are those who take care of communication and those who take care of event logistics. Simone Ficicchia is not the supreme leader. He is someone who, being afraid for his future, decided to act. Furthermore, Simone is openly non-violent. In all our actions we are non-violent, we would never hurt anyone. It doesn't say on our website that we want the destruction of the Italian state, we demand 20 GW of wind and solar power and not to start drilling in the Adriatic again. We are not a dangerous movement in our view, but that is the game. The game is that if they repress us they make a bad impression. Although it is a strategic element to accept repression within civil resistance, I still want to point out the seriousness of trying to give such a code to a non-violent person because it is like crossing the Rubicon. If you do this today, three years from now what do you do? You give it to a Fridays for Future organiser? That's very serious.