Colleen Kelly Addresses First European Social Forum

The first European Social Forum was held in Florence, Italy from November 7-10, 2002

Give Me Freedom or What Have We Got?

by Colleen Kelly

Hans Blix weighed in. Secretary of State Colin Powell had his say. The American public wanted their turn. Not so fast said the City. You have the right to express the content of your thought, but we’ll decide the form. I’m referring to a Federal Judge’s decision Monday denying the right to a peaceful march to a group called United For Peace and Justice. This anti-war organization requested a permit to march past the United Nations Saturday as a symbol of dissent against the impending war with Iraq.

This led to memories of the European Social Forum held in Florence, Italy this past November. I had been invited to speak there as a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. My brother Bill was killed at the World Trade Center on September 11th, and Europeans wanted to hear from family members seeking alternative pathways to peace.

As you may recall, a young man named Juan Carlo Giuliani was killed tragically at a protest in Genoa the year before. The Italian media was fanning that flame, insinuating that the Social Forum would be dangerous and violent. I was cautioned by the State Department not to travel. Reports abound that Florentines were leaving their city in droves. In fact, one Italian writer likened Forum participants to terrorists. Two days before the Forum, I was interviewed by Italian National television. While they played my voice, images of machete wielding men were shown, running angrily down a street. The Ponte Vecchio?? No! These were pictures taken somewhere in Latin America years before. The intent was clear. Scare enough people into thinking this was a radical, “fringe” event and no one will show. Not so!! Over 400,000 Europeans, from grandma’s in their fur coats, to students and labor organizers, thought it important enough to step forward and be counted as a voice for peace. But the police played it smart too. They gathered a block away along the entire parade route. They weren’t visibly dressed in riot gear. Ultimately, the parade and rally demonstrated the rapidly growing anti-war movement in Europe, without incident.

I had been hoping for a similar expression here, in my city, New York. I know it?s not the same. We’re under “Code Orange”. But I don?t get the logic. The defendant has argued that it’s not the participants of the march that are the threat, but the inability to provide for their security. Isn’t the easier terrorist target a stationary, standing group?

But maybe that’s not what they’re really afraid of.

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