I am fascinated to watch the constructive ferment about the commons in Italy. The most stunning sign of this trend (as mentioned in a previous blog post) was the voter referendum on water in June 2011 when Italians overwhelmingly rejected the privatization of their municipal water systems. The vote was a stinging defeat for political elites and the media, and a surprising confirmation that the commons can be a template for shuffling the ideological deck. Some 94% of voters, including the center/right, said that water should be controlled by the people, not profit-maximizing corporations.
This signal was apparently heard in Italian political culture. Luigi de Magistris, a former prosecutor and member of the European Parliament,was elected mayor of Naples in May 2011 on a law and order platform. He has now become a big-time champion of the commons. As Anthony Quattrone of the Naples Politics blog puts it, Naples is now a hothouse of “participatory democracy, bottom-up initiatives, and social innovation.”
De Magistris was an outsider to Neapolitan politics when he won the support of two minor parties for his quest for the mayoralty. With support from both the far left and conservatives, he improbably defeated the businessman supported Prime Minister Berlusconi. “Many citizens in Naples feel that the election of Luigi de Magistris is a last-ditch bid to save whatever is left of the glorious capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies,” Quattrone wrote. “Neapolitan disenchantment with politics and total distrust of politicians started with the unification of Italy and has basically persisted to this day.”
The commons as a path forward? De Magistris thinks so. He has appointed an “Assessor of Commons” to reclaim public management of the city’s water services. The Assessor is also charged with identifying new commons-based ways of providing services. The Mayor has national political ambitions, and talks frankly of the commons as a framework for managing the people’s wealth.