ACTIVE CITIZENS NETWORKING
JON VAN TIL
What comes to mind when one thinks of an “active citizen”? In the center of society’s political spectrum, perhaps an individual speaking at a town council meeting about a neighborhood concern. Or a group of political volunteers canvassing before a close Congressional election. Or members of a church delivering a hot meal to a homeless center.
But society’s extremes also provide images of active
citizenship. On the left, the young and
hirsute activist in
Contemporary societies engender citizen action from the
frustrations experienced in their every corner—left or right; young or old;
educated or unschooled. In
While Italy may be not unlike the United States and other so-called “developed” nations in the alienation and anger felt by many of its citizens, it is also the location of a remarkable organization, “Cittadinanzattiva”, formed 28 years ago and now supported by 100,000 individual members, 250 local groups and 120 federated associations as members.
In a recent visit to the
The organization counts among its most recent victories a
remarkable bill it conceived, now moving
toward legislative approval in Italy, which impounds the financial gains
secured by the State’s anti-corruption activities for the use of social
purposes. Since corruption is widespread
in Italian corporate and political life, this legislation, introduced from the
political right, will provide significant funding for
Cittadinanzattiva leaders note that prior to the adoption in 1948 of Article 118 of the Italian Constitution, which favors the development of “autonomous initiatives of citizens individually and in association”, citizen participants could be fined for “Excess of Citizenship”.
Director Petrangolini notes that her organization “gets people together for the common good.” Successful campaigns mounted by Cittadinanzattiva have involved patient rights, access to facilities by disabled persons, education and organization for active citizenship, advance of consumer rights, and the monitoring of school safety.
Funding for the organization comes for its specific projects, which often receive governmental support from European Union sources. Corporate support is accepted when there is no connection between any product or service of the corporation and the purpose of the Cittadinanzattiva project.
The Italian Active Citizens’ Network seeks to move beyond what it sees as “the traditional vision” of participation, with its focus on protest, “problem making” rather than “problem solving”, and dependence on the power of others. Its “new vision” brings citizens together “to self organize in a multiplicity of forms, to mobilize resources, to exercise powers for the protection of rights, and to achieve caring for and developing of common goods.”
Cittadinanzattiva charts four ways in which it works to defend and advance citizen rights: 1) Direct action (charters of rights, advisory services, monitoring and generating data, symbolic actions, awareness raising, conflict management, delivery of new services); 2) Resource mobilization (mobilization, fund raising, petitions, education, creation of associations, civic use of the media); 3) Technologies of Interlocution (agreements, round tables, participatory planning, partnerships); and 4) Techniques for the Activation of Institutions (claims, enforcement of procedures; legal actions, lobbying).
Nonprofit organization leaders in the
Cittadinanzattiva provides a
challenge to, and a model for,