In the face of the Italian socialist state’s utter incapacity to keep up the capital city, citizens have banded together in an American-style volunteer association called “Retake Roma” to pick up litter, beautify piazzas, fill potholes and paint over graffiti.
Fed up with waiting months or even years for the city to get around to replacing diseased trees or cleaning up graffiti-covered train stations, Romans are starting to take back their city. After years of corruption and neglect by City Hall officials, citizens have decided to take matters into their own hands.
“Rome is on the verge of collapse,” Giancarlo Cremonesi, the president of the Rome Chamber of Commerce, told Reuters last summer. “It is unacceptable that a major city which calls itself developed can find itself in such a state of decay.”
Not long afterward, the city’s main newspaper, Il Messaggero, lamented on its front page that “Rome is falling apart at the seams,” while another story reported on a rat infestation in the city center.
Last October, Rome’s mayor Ignazio Marino was forced to resign by his own party, after a series of scandals had brought public embarrassment upon the office. Marino had constantly been in the news for allegations ranging from mismanagement of the city, to unpaid parking tickets, to a string of mafia scandals related to his office, and finally for a financial imbroglio involving tens of thousands of euros in credit card receipts for meals on the taxpayers’ dime.
The announcement came exactly two months prior to the beginning of the massive “Jubilee Year of Mercy,” expected to draw more than 30 million visitors to Rome.
Retake Roma, a citizens’ group extolling a sense of civic duty, was inspired by an American who cleaned up the Rome building where he lived, exposing Romans to the deeply rooted American tradition of working together for one’s community.
In March, the group mustered up more than 3,000 volunteers in one weekend to clean up some of the city’s major squares in time for the spring influx of pilgrims and tourists.
One volunteer, Brunella Fraleoni, who is married to an American and previously lived in the United States, told the AP that such expressions of civic responsibility are a foreign concept in Rome.
“The idea of fixing up something is very poorly rooted in Italy. Maybe it’s because we’re used to ruins,” she quipped.
Others suggest that the problem is endemic to socialism itself, which trains citizens to rely on the government for everything, with the result of quelling the creative initiative of the private sector.
In its love affair with socialism, the Left has long pointed to Europe as a mecca of good living and splendid social services. In his 2007 documentary Sicko, for instance, activist Michael Moore held up Italy as a model of what state healthcare could look like.
Despite Moore’s uninformed opinions to the contrary, Italy’s social services—from public transportation to healthcare—are in disastrous shape. One young man told Breitbart News that he had injured his ankle and was told to get an MRI. When he tried to use the public health system to schedule an appointment, they told him that they would gladly see him on November 12.
This was on March 22.
“Any broken bones would have set badly and irreversibly by then,” he said. “You just can’t treat emergency services like that.”
Like many, the young man ended up paying for the MRI himself at a private clinic.
Now Romans are experimenting with something American’s used to take for granted: a sense of civic duty.
For their part, municipal structures are recognizing the benefits of volunteer services and are welcoming the free assistance. The city’s sanitation service even provides free black plastic trash bags to volunteer street cleaners, knowing that they are getting a bargain.
It may be a small step to encourage citizen involvement in the common good and a little less dependence on the overweening state, but then Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome