When people deliberately break the law to become squatters or take possession of public buildings, it is a pretty good sign that the market/state is failing to meet the public’s basic needs. This is the general scenario in many parts of Rome, reports Donatella Della Ratta of Al Jazeera, as various citizens’ movements take over theaters, public buildings and apartment buildings. Squatting and illegal occupation are rampant.
Much of the turmoil has resulted from budget cutbacks and the resulting failure of government to uphold its constitutional duty to provide adequate housing and meet other public needs. Shady speculators then swarm into the picture to snap up buildings that the government is selling at rock-bottom prices in order to raise money.
What’s a victimized public to do? Defy the law and occupy what is theirs. In Rome, former employees of the Teatro Valle, a grand public theater and former opera house, have taken over the premises since June 2011. (Here is Della Ratta's November 2011 account of the Teatro Valle occupation.) This act of defiance has now sparked many similar citizen takeovers around the city. In one of the more notable occupations, citizens took over a government building used for motor vehicle registrations and drivers’ licensure. As Della Ratta reports:
“Scup (Sport e Cultura Popolare) as the place has been renamed, was occupied, cleaned up and brought back to life by a mixed group of young activists, sport instructors and some residents of the neighborhood. They were outraged by the lack of public spaces for leisure and sport activities in an area that has become more and more gentrified while rental prices have soared.”
A young activist, Carlo, explained: “Occupying is an expression of public outrage.”