“Politics is also for young people,” say Francesca Cazan and Angelica Bawalsah, two candidates of the electoral roll La Giovane Roma.
By Francesca Antonelli / Contributor
ROME—On Sept. 26, the under-25 civic electoral roll, La Giovane Roma, launched its first-time candidacy for the 2021 Rome municipal election challenging controversy and insults. This civic list is the youngest one to run for Rome’s City Council in the history of Italy.
La Giovane Roma is made up of young women and men under 25, including the staff, the candidates and the candidate for mayor of Rome, who said they decided to join their experiences and potential to offer a different vision of their city. The young group runs in Rome’s elections saying it aims to gain the trust from its citizens. Before winning a seemingly impossible challenge, the group has created a project that first looks at the desire to bring young people back to voting and the vote back to those who have not voted for years.
Francesca Cazan, 19, and Angelica Bawalsah, 20, are two of the three candidates in the electoral roll, and two new faces in the world of Italian politics who come forward responding to criticism and asking for trust and respect.
With their slogan, –Siamo il Futuro, Vogliamo il Presente– (We are the Future, We want the Present), from the day in which La Giovane Roma went out with its project and its electoral proposal, the world of the web was unleashed sparking offenses and disapproval. On the report of Roma Daily News, several extremists decided to pour out their anger towards the electoral roll: “You suck;” “You get funded by the parties;” “You are only 20 years old and you need to go home;” “You are all clowns that only deserve to go back to the circus.”
These comments are mainly based on embarrassment and humiliation towards the young group, specifying how young people do not have the right to get involved and fight for the future of their city.
“Just search on the web,” said Federico Lo Buono, 20, candidate for mayor of Rome (in Italian). “To see how low the level of criticism is leveled at us.”
Cazan, 19, is a student of Political Science and International Relations at the La Sapienza University. Having graduated with honors from the Giuseppe Peano State Scientific High School, Francesca describes herself as an ambitious girl and, above all, devoted to studying, which she said has been her main source for years and hopes this will continue being her winning weapon in life. Francesca is the youngest candidate of the group, but this doesn’t stop her from wanting to participate decisively in the project. On the official website of La Giovane Roma, Francesca says that she has decided to take this path because she believes in the willpower and sacrifice of her generation.
Bawalsah, 20, is a student of Psychology at the European University of Rome (EUR). Of Italo-Jordanian origins, Angelica defined herself in Italian as a citizen of the world who loves traveling and visiting different cultures around the world. She described herself as a young woman open to diversity, eager to learn more, and always in search for personal enrichment. Thanks to the civic electoral roll project, Angelica has been able to step forward into politics, believing in the will of young people to become the protagonists of this era and this reality, she said.
“Politics is participation,” Cazan said (in Italian). “The desire to destroy this set of social conventions that have been consolidated over time, and the idea that young people are always the least involved and least represented category in this sector have brought me this far today. These have pushed me to want to do politics.”
As stated by national web radio Civico93, Italy is the country in the European Union where young people have less potential political power. The younger generations have long since been forgotten by politics in Italy and, according to Il Sole 24 Ore, and it is no coincidence that, in recent years, their decision to transfer their residence – and expertise – abroad has increased. In fact, the departures for expatriation are 131 Italians in the last year, and four out of ten people are between 18 and 34 years old.
Observing the data and statistics reported by Gaia Van Der Esch, Deputy Executive Director of IMPACT Initiatives and Tommaso Cariati, Stanford MBA and Harvard MPA, in Numeri Pari, those who leave are young people with high potential and high academic qualifications, who are not valued at home but that are appreciated abroad. This data speaks for itself: Italy is a country where young people do not feel valued as a resource, and they leave in order to find a better future, write Van Der Esch and Cariati.
From the point of view of equality between generations, Italy gives few, if any, opportunity to enterprising young people, according to OndaNews. Franco Iorio, Chief Executive Officer of C.P.C., writes that Italy does not pay attention to the presence of young people in society and in the public debate, and that its political and managerial class, which has an average age of over 60, can’t shape the future and the world of today’s educated and competent young generation.
“I want to spread a different conception of politics,” Bawalsah said. “Something that goes beyond the labels of left, right, fascism or communism. I want to propose a new idea of politics, out of the box.”
With ten points in the official electoral proposal, La Giovane Roma includes initiatives in the following sectors: Culture and Tourism; Transport, Mobility and Traffic; Environment and Waste; Legality, Transparency and Safety; Schools and Universities; SID (Sburocratizzazione, Innovazione e Digitalizzazione); Sport and Youth Policies; Social Policies, Suburbs and Welfare; Urban Planning and City Development; Participation and Active Citizenship.
According to the electoral proposals, La Giovane Roma said it takes into consideration the increasing of crimes, the absence of security controls, the organized crime and mafia associations in Rome, basing their project on the desire to increase credibility in institutions through a n increase in transparency and respect for the Italian State. They said that they are aware of the crisis in the schools and universities systems, and they aim to intervene by improving educational programs, accessibility, timetables, and the ordinary and extraordinary maintenance of both schools and universities. The group also aims to create make Rome a new smart city, from intelligent traffic lights, to start-ups and innovative companies, camera traps, and a safecast project for pollution.
The group said it considers Rome’s public transportation as one of the worst in all Europe, and they want to create and finance a new public transportation service that is efficient, safe, fast and accessible, supported by the competitive mobility that perfectly meets European standards. The group also addressed the concern of Rome being in a waste emergency, and said it wants to launch a new AMA policy (waste collection management in Rome), freeing the vast green heritage from neglect and fighting urban decay. Also, La Giovane Roma has mentioned it wants to enhance the archaeological, historical and artistic heritage of Rome, rediscovering the treasures and beauties hidden from the suburbs to the city center.
Continuing with their initiatives, La Giovane Roma proposes to focus on the redevelopment of sport facilities and the promotion of sporting events to ensure a healthy lifestyle with physical and balanced development for all Roman citizens. According to the group, there is a lack of common vision in the city, and for this reason, it wants to promote social inclusion and personal growth through the recovery of abandoned spaces, the transformation of former barracks into public housing, and the support of weaker sections of the Roman population. Another initiative consists in improving the quality of life of the citizens of Rome and hopes for their active participation in collective life, proposing a new Capitoline Senate with representatives of Roman culture, work and businesses, and an increase in collaborations between citizens and administrations for the care of urban commons.
However, the electoral roll sparked discussions regarding the role of young people in these sectors and elicited numerous negative comments from Italians on social media. According to RomaToday’s editor in Rome Anna Grazia Concilio, Lo Buono and the other candidates are receiving these types of comments on their personal social media accounts:
“Only a villain could think of running for the elections at 20 years old, and only villains could vote someone like you;” “You are just yet another character in a little theater that never ceases to embarrass;” “If this is the future, give us back the Middle Ages.”
“Empty polemics and personal insults are not going to stop us,” Lo Buono wrote in a post on his Facebook profile, in Italian. “We are not going to back down. I am extremely proud of the choice we have made.”
Heavy insults at the young group continue to increase, coming also from well-known figures on social media.
Sherif El Sebaie, 39, an Italo-Greek-Egyptian columnist has posted belittling and offensive comments at Lo Buono and the entire team. El Sebaie, an expert in cultural diplomacy, Euro-Mediterranean Relations and Social Integration Policies, collaborator of Panorama, Spindoctor, UN Interpreter and part of the Lega Lord of Matteo Salvini posts:
“I have lived in Italy for long enough to feel taken for a ride,” wrote El Sebaie in Italian. “When a 20-years-old Renziano [follower of Matteo Renzi] applies for mayor of Rome, you have the mathematical certainty that the institutional aplomb is safe.”
El Sebaie published 11 posts on his Facebook page and among these was the re-sharing of a video made and published by Luca Donadel, a young videoblogger from Turin and collaborator of right-wing organizations like The National Primacy (CasaPound newspaper), Matrix, and Quarta Repubblica. Donadel is a reference point for a network of influencers co-opted by the communication of the main parties of the Italian right. Despite being the same age as the members of La Giovane Roma, the youtuber criticzed Lo Buono and the project. On the video that he posted on his official YouTube page, entitled “La verità su Federico Lo Buono e La Giovane Roma?” (The truth about Federico Lo Buono and La Giovane Roma), Donadel said in Italian:
“I don’t know if this party will be remembered as the youngest…personally, I will remember it as the most cringe one because, in less than two days, they managed to get to levels of ‘ocaggine’ [stupidity] that I didn’t think possible.”
Donadel is not wrong when he talks about the past of Lo Buono. In fact, Lo Buono made himself known for having entered the merits of politics. At 16 years old, he joined the Democratic Party and became the number one fan of Matteo Renzi, who later on founded the party Italia Viva. Lo Buono followed him faithfully and even came to speak from the Leopolda stage, the reminiscent living room place where the political conference launched by Matteo Renzi takes place every year in the autumn, in Florence, in the former station “Leopolda.” In this place, he continued his path in the world of politics supporting the new political entity with a community of young activists called “Pischelli in cammino,” which he founded.
Lo Buono does not seem to want to hide the past, but he uses it as an advantage for his future: according to Roma Today, Lo Buono says how he was enrolled first in the “Democratic Party” and then in “Italia Viva” committing himself to public affairs. Thanks to these experiences, however, he realized that “the party does not give you the freedom to involve others and to broaden the horizons of confrontation,” Lo Buono said. Today, he defines himself as far away from any Italian party, neither from right nor left, but only as a follower of the true values of the Italian Constitution.
Lo Buono and the entire staff of La Giovane Roma do not present themselves as a partisan political party of the right or left side—they said that this not what they want. Instead, according to their mission statements expressed during the official launch conference at the Factory Newton on Oct. 1, their electoral proposals address their desire to participate in the construction of a different, better and more avant-garde city than the one they now live in.
Donadel humiliated the young group on the basis of a comment under one of the 11 posts of El Sebaie: a comment made by Bawalsah’s mother. This comment was made in response to insults from El Sebaie, where Bawalsah’s mother takes a stand and defends the group’s project and ideals. Donadel used the comment as a reason to ridicule the young group of La Giovane Roma.
Bawalsah said she felt personally attacked. She said she doesn’t feel she is taken seriously because of a comment made by one of her parents. Bawalsah took a step forward and responded to these negative judgments.
“Who exactly are them to judge my decisions?” Bawalsah said. “These are all very superficial insults, made only on a personal level and based mainly on our age. None of these criticisms appears to be on the content of our proposals, which could even be constructive for us, given the fact that we are learning directly on the field.”
La Giovane Roma, however, is not the only young generation on the national territory to take decisive steps into the world of politics in Italy. There are a few examples of young politicians that demonstrate this, according to the weekly information newspaper online VeronaFedele.it.
—Elena Lucia Zumerle, 24, is a city councilor of the Municipality of San Martino Buon Albergo and president of the Student Council of the University of Verona.
—Laura Cappellaro, 26, is the councilor with responsibility for Youth Policies of the Municipality of Palù.
—Borgo Libero, the electoral roll presented at the administrative elections last spring, is a group made up exclusively of young people aged between 18 and 28, who managed to obtain a seat on the Council, currently occupied by Andrea Cordioli, 27, the then candidate for mayor of Villafranca.
In line with what stated in the study published by Cittalia, in Italy, 53 percent of young people between 18 and 24 years old and 47 percent between 25 and 34 years old are convinced that it is necessary to take part in the political and social life of their territory.
The president and founder of Idea Management Human Capital, writer, psychologist, trainer and coach, Angela Gallo, wrote that young people define themselves proactive and attentive to the problems of their local community, especially the youngest, who believe that political participation is essential.
“I was incredulous when I found out about the project of La Giovane Roma,” said Daniele Emili, 20, student of Economics at the Roma Tre University. “In today’s society you don’t really expect for a young person to be supported. It is difficult to bet on our future.”
In contemporary Italian society, according to Valerio Timo, buyer specialist at CNH Industrial, there is not a real political party that seriously talks about young people, nor policies that favor their entry into the world of work or that guarantee them a solid future. In an article published by Res Novae Online, Timo takes as reference the national elections of March 4, 2018, where 40.9 percent of young people declared that they arrived at the polls without a solid conviction on who to vote and why. The 22.2 percent of them found themselves choosing the “least bad” political party, and 18.7 percent voting only to avoid other political parties, considered harmful for the country, to prevail. It is not easy for them to fully participate in politics, Timo says, since it is manly the previous generations that count.
“In Italy there are many young people who want to experiment, propose ideas, give alternatives and possible solutions as we are doing,” Cazan said. “There is the will, but there are no opportunities because there is a lack of trust. All of this hurts me, but that’s why I chose to represent my generation and motivate my peers.”
Why is it often taken for granted that young people don’t have to fight for a say?
The global movement for climate and environmental justice Fridays For Future, according to Il Fatto Quotidiano, demonstrates that collective awareness among current generations and the desire to be heard exist.
However, Vittorio Feltri, 77, journalist and columnist, Andrea Scanzi, 46, journalist and TV presenter, and Diego Fusaro, 37, essayist and columnist, pointed out the “uselessness” and “banality” of this initiative.
“The vocation of the masses has always been to listen to madmen,” Feltri said in Italian. “Better if they were criminals like Stalin and Hitler. So, don’t be surprised if a clumsy little girl, who barely finished the eighth grade, has a lot of following today.”
It is common in the media that, very often, the image that adults have of young people is influenced by a media representation that tends to highlight deviations rather than merits, according to Quotidiano.net.
Journalist Giulia Prosperetti, 35, from the Lazio order of journalists, writes about the director of the Observatory Generazione Proteo, and sociologist and lecturer at Link Campus University, Nicola Ferrigni, 44, who said that giving a voice to young people represents a fundamental need in this very particular historical moment, characterized by the complexity of the political and economic scenario, national and international. Ferrigni defines this youth as “the true revolutionaries of our time.”
According to Business Insider Italia, Lo Buono, Cazan, Bawalsah and all the other members of the electoral roll La Giovane Roma are the ones who have decided to come forward to attempt the “impossible challenge” with courage and willpower.
“As a friend, student and citizen of Rome, I am proud to see that people of my age get involved as much as they are doing,” Emili said. “It is admirable how they came together and decided to act, to actively participate for our community, rather than wait and hope for a change. I would feel safe in their hands.”
According to Quotidiano.net, 30.3 percent of young people of the Generazione Proteo are interested in politics and 79.4 percent consider voting a civic duty, while 42.7 percent don’t feel represented by any party or political movement.
“You don’t always need to rely on someone you don’t even believe in,” Cazan said. “We have surrendered to everything that they [adult politicians] make us believe in, no longer pretending that space that is actually ours, that nobody has ever taken away from us, that is there, but that we rather delegate to others. Here, I don’t want to delegate it to anyone, I want to have my own space starting from today.”
On Nov. 7, the public demonstration of the Emiliano Romagnola Federation of National Youth, a movement of the conservative party Fratelli d’Italia, entitled “Catene di Libertà” (Chains of Freedom) took place in Modena, as PiacenzaSera.it reports. Luca Corbellini, provincial president of “Fratelli d’Italia Piaceza,” intervened and said it is time to say enough to this politics adverse to the needs of young people often considered as the problem rather than the resource. Corbellini remarked how the ruling class tends to adopt measures which offload the costs onto the young generations. He said that it is necessary “to include the evaluation of the generational impact among the guiding criteria for the adoption of the every political, economic and social choice.”
Among the current candidates and their respective lists running for the 2021 Municipal in Rome, include: Carlo Calenda, Giancarlo Cremonesi, Aurelio Regina, Nicola Porro, Guido Bertolaso, Vittorio Sgarbi, Andrea Bernaudo and Monica Lozzi. None of them seem to make comments on the work of Lo Buono and his list of La Giovane Roma.
“Ours [the project] is a social message,” Bawalsah said. “We want to give confidence to other young people who would like to get involved in this society as we are. We want to change the normality, breaking down labels and stereotypes. We are here to change the present and plan a better future, giving opportunities and respect to those who want to come forward.”
The 2021 Rome municipal election for the new Mayor of Rome will be held on a date between April 15 and June 15, 2021, COVID-19 permitting.
Francesca Antonelli is a junior student and journalism contributor from Rome majoring in Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.