Italian activist and member of the left-wing party Sinistra Ecologia e Libertà.
Founder and editor of WikiLeaks.
field director the Tokyo General Union, the largest foreign-led labor union in Japan. He’s lived in Japan for more than five years and is participating in the Occupy Tokyo movement.
From Buenos Aires to Toronto, Kuala Lumpur to London, hundreds of thousands of people rallied on Saturday in a global day of action against corporate greed and budget cutbacks, demanding better living conditions and a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources. Protests reportedly took place in 1,500 cities, including 100 cities in the United States—all in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement that launched one month ago in New York City. We go to Athens for a report from a protest at Syntagma Square against austerity measures and corporate greed, speak to an activist in Rome where 200,000 rallied, and go to Japan for a report on the Occupy Tokyo demonstration. We also air excerpts of a speech by Julian Assange of WikiLeaks at Occupy London Stock Exchange. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: It’s been a month since thousands answered a call to occupy Wall Street here in New York City, and as of this weekend, the movement has gone global. On Saturday, as thousands marched in New York’s Times Square, people also took to the streets in more than a thousand cities in more than 80 countries. From Buenos Aires to Toronto, Kuala Lumpur to London, people rallied against corporate greed and budget cutbacks, demanding better living conditions and a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources. They were answering a global call to action that’s also coincided with the Group of 20, or G20, meeting in Paris, where finance ministers and bankers are considering naming 50 banks as systemically important to the global economy and in need of, quote, "extra capital."
In Athens, Greece, as the country braces for a general strike, thousands of people gathered in the center of the city in Syntagma Square to protest austerity measures and corporate greed. Independent journalist Brandon Jourdan was on the scene and filed this report for Democracy Now!
PANAGIOTIS KOUSTAS: My name is Panagiotis Koustas. And what is happening right now in Syntagma Square is that we are having a demonstration and a concert for the 15th of October, which is the global day of action.
NIKOS MARKOGIANNAKIS: My name is Nikos Markogiannakis. And I just came here because I want to see things changed.
KATJA EHRHARDT: My name is Katja Ehrhardt. I’m actually German. I’ve been living in Greece for six years. I think that we should all kind of think about what is going to happen in the future and how we can contribute to it.
NIKOS MARKOGIANNAKIS: People came because they want to see things changed. We think that Greece doesn’t deserve all this.
PANAGIOTIS KOUSTAS: What happened after Troica arrived in Greece is a simple disaster.
NIKOS MARKOGIANNAKIS: A lot of people are losing their jobs. They see—they don’t have money to buy food for their families.
KATJA EHRHARDT: It seems like there is so much pressure going on right now that people feel that they can’t take this anymore. Everybody is kind of starting to realize that this system is really wrong from the core, and you can see it collapsing all over the world pretty much. I mean, it’s not just Greece.
PANAGIOTIS KOUSTAS: We have to get back to our common sense everywhere in the world. I mean, this is a completely irrational system. There are people that they think that this is an opportunity to rethink and change their whole life, take their lives back to their hands.
NIKOS MARKOGIANNAKIS: People will rise soon, will rise up.
KATJA EHRHARDT: I think that the change is not going to come from the politicians or any authorities up there. I think the change is coming from us. It’s coming from the change in our way of thinking and living. I think this is a chance for everyone to wake up and think about what actually they want and how do they want the world to be and what do they want to do to make the world a better place.
AMY GOODMAN: Some of the voices from Saturday’s protest in Greece, where the government is set to vote Thursday on new austerity measures that could raise taxes while also reducing the minimum wage. A 48-hour general strike is set for Wednesday and Thursday.
Elsewhere in Europe, tens of thousands of protesters filled Madrid’s Sol Square, where the indignados movement, the movement of the indigant, first began five months ago over austerity measures and high unemployment.
Meanwhile, in Rome, reports say as many as 200,000 people joined the global day of rage against bankers and corrupt politicians. The march was peaceful until police fired tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to disperse hundreds of protesters who set cars on fire and broke windows. Tiziana Bellucci was—from Rome, expressed optimism about the possible outcome of the day’s protests.
TIZIANA BELLUCCI: [translated] I hope this autumn will be our Arab Spring. That might be a little optimistic, but I believe dignity has no borders or flags.
AMY GOODMAN: Commenting on the small number of rioters who disrupted the otherwise peaceful demonstration, Mauro Vitiello from Milan said the protesters should not be discouraged.
MAURO VITIELLO: [translated] I think we have to take these kinds of risks into account, like any other situation involving a similar number of people in today’s protest. But you can’t generalize. Certainly the people who want to demonstrate peacefully should just carry on and not mix in with the people whose intentions differ from participating in a peaceful protest.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about events in Italy, we’re joined now via Democracy Now! video stream by Vincenzo Fiore. He’s a member of the Sinistra [Ecologia e Libertà], the left-wing party headed by Nichi Vendola. He is also a member of the horizontal association TILT. Mainly composed of students and precarious workers, TILT has been active in the organizing committee for the demonstrations in Rome.
Vincenzo, welcome to Democracy Now! Describe what happened this weekend in some of what are believed to be the largest protests in the world.
VINCENZO FIORE: Hello. Good morning to you all.
Basically what happened is that we had the biggest marches, as you already said. And we also had the only one with violence. And the problem was that basically the committee that was organizing the protest has been very heterogeneous. It was composed by several different kinds of association and other single people. And some of these people—actually, it is a small part, but they are still there at the moment—they really think that the only way to fight the system at the moment, especially in Italy, where the situation is really tough, is to use violence. And of course this created a lot problems and actually made it—made us lose a big opportunity, which was something that we were trying to do for the Saturday.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about why this was so large, hundreds of thousands of Italians in the streets. How was it organized? What were the main focuses of the protest?
VINCENZO FIORE: The main focuses are basically the same that are everywhere else in the world. We are trying to say that this system is not working. It is spoiling us. It is destroying our opportunities about the present and the future. We know that—I mean, a lot of people are losing their jobs. They know that they are not going to find a better way to—for their life, to live. We know that our universities are getting closed for the opportunities, that there’s a lot of people who are not going in it to be there in the immediate future, and the same for education. There’s a whole system. I mean, in Italy, we’re talking about bribery, which is like exactly in your face. It’s not like in other places where it is hidden, but it’s completely unveiled.
So, there’s a lot of anger. And there’s a lot of unions and association and parties trying to join their forces and to propose something different and to kick this government out of the way. The problem is that, trying to put all these forces together, that there was—there was a mistake, because it was not clear at a certain point that we had to make a nonviolent statement. And there were people trying to use the march—and they actually did that—to protect themselves, because they wanted to make a major fight and major clashes, which is definitely not—it is something that is not useful, and it’s trying—it is already having these some consequences, bad consequences. It is going belittle the whole movement. It’s really sad. It’s really a bad situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Vincenzo, could you talk about the arrests of the right-wing soccer groups that were involved in the rioting?
VINCENZO FIORE: Yeah, there were a few people from—coming from, like, hooligans kind of situation, from the soccer team. But I wouldn’t say that that was a major thing. I mean, I must say, honestly, that there were a lot of people coming from—like casseurs, as they say in France, which were just not so much about political organization, not even about right wing/left wing. They just wanted to smash things, and they wanted to use the big march, like 99 percent of the people who were there, to protect themselves, so that they could do whatever they want.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the effect of the Occupy Wall Street encampment, the movement that began a month ago today, Vincenzo, on Italy?
VINCENZO FIORE: Yeah, actually, I mean, I’ve seen that is considered as a starting point, the Occupy Wall Street. I have to say, here, we are trying to make a relation more on the north coast of Africa, which is something that, of course, hit us emotionally and also practically. And we also have a lot of conference with the Spanish guys. So it’s something that has started a lot of months ago. And we already had a few protests. We tried to occupy the stock market in Milan already, like a month ago, so that there was something going on, but that the point was that we wanted to make this march as the key—as the starting point for something. We wanted to make—as what happened for the Occupy Wall Street, we thought it was necessary to make the same thing and to use the 15th of October as the starting point for something. And it was not possible. We had to occupy this main square in Rome. And, of course, it was—we didn’t manage to do that. We programmed a lot of assemblies into discussion about what to do and what are our proposals about how to change things, but everything was just destroyed. That’s the sad thing. I mean, everybody here is just really worried about what is going to be in the future. We are trying to tell ourselves that we have to keep on working, and we have a lot of things. We don’t have to get afraid and scared by these people. But I think we need another couple of days to try to reorganize everything.
AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of Berlusconi, who he is, and his powers, both the leader of the government and also the major owner of the media in Italy, and how your protest is even covered?
VINCENZO FIORE: Yeah, it is—actually, usually, the most of the marches that we had in the last, like, five, 10 years, they are not covered. They are just presented in a way that is different from what they are. It’s really difficult to understand what is going on here from the point of view of the media. And it’s not—I’ve seen that there are difficulties here also in trying to explain exactly how the government is messing with our life, just because they have to protect this single man, which is the prime minister, from his legal problems, so that the whole government is—it only has one goal. And all the people who are around it, they depend on the figure of Berlusconi, because otherwise they would not be elected again. And the thing is that they don’t care about what is going on about the crisis. They don’t care about what is going on about the jobs. So the whole situation is completely stuck. This creates a lot of frustration.
And we are trying to make a lot of products, to organize, to [inaudible]. TILT—it’s the organization I belong to—is basically a network of other people trying to talk to each other and to try to make something more, because also the left part of the parliament, it’s completely useless at the moment. They don’t know what to say. They are trying to make some kind of agreement inside the parliament, talking about not real life. That’s the thing. They are out of reality. And we don’t know exactly how to make the system work again.
AMY GOODMAN: Vincenzo Fiore, I want to thank you very much for being with us—
AMY GOODMAN: —speaking to us from Rome. When we come back from break, we’ll be going to Japan, to Argentina and to London, as well as to Washington, and to right here in New York, where the latest wave of protests began a month ago today. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of people gathered in London’s financial district on what activists termed the global day of rage. The founder and editor of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, made a surprise appearance at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral Saturday to address the crowds of protesters occupying London’s financial district.
JULIAN ASSANGE: What is happening here today is a culmination of dreams that many people all over the world have worked towards, from Cairo to London. What we face today is a systematized destruction of the rule of law. People are being laundered through Guantánamo Bay to evade the rule of law, and money is being laundered through the Cayman Islands and London to evade the rule of law. This movement is not about the destruction of law. It is about the construction of law.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, addressing protesters in London’s financial district this weekend.
Thousands of demonstrators across Latin America joined in the protests Saturday, demanding a more democratic political, social order. Marta Díez, a Spanish citizen living in Argentina, said the economy should no longer control politics.
MARTA DÍEZ: [translated] I ask that all people be considered and democracy really turns into real democracy, because we have realized that the political parties have no power, the politicians have no power. The economy rules. Money rules. And we can’t really elect them.
AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds of protesters also joined rallies in Tokyo over the weekend, expressing frustration at youth unemployment and the dangers of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi accident.
To talk more about the protest, we’re going to Tokyo to talk to Gerome Rothman, field director of the Tokyo General Union, the largest foreign-led labor union in Japan. He’s lived in Japan for five-and-a-half years and participated in the Occupy Tokyo movement over the weekend.
Gerome, welcome to Democracy Now! We’re seeing if we can get him in Tokyo. If not, we will move on to hear voices of people throughout, as we continue this round robin of voices of protests around the country and around the world. Let’s see if we can get Gerome on right now. We’re trying to get him on Democracy Now! video stream in Tokyo.
Gerome, are you with us?
GEROME ROTHMAN: Yes, I’m here. Can you see me OK?
AMY GOODMAN: We’re fine. Tell us what happened this weekend.
GEROME ROTHMAN: So, Tozen Union, or Tokyo General Union, joined a hundred—a hundred to 200 protesters in the government district of Tokyo to protest in solidarity with our brothers and sisters at the Wall Street occupation. We wanted to join the 99 percenters in demonstrating our solidarity with stopping the corporate greed around the world. We marched past TEPCO, which is the energy utility which runs the Fukushima power plant. And we went by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The people at this protest were representing many different points of view, including resistance to nuclear power, resistance to declining working conditions in Japan, as well as resistance to the TPP free trade—so-called free trade protocol. It was exciting. It was really wonderful. And I was deeply inspired by it.
AMY GOODMAN: How significant is Occupy Wall Street for the protests that are happening now in Japan? I mean, there have been protests in Japan because of this horrific nuclear power—these meltdowns that have resulted from all that took place before.
GEROME ROTHMAN: Yes, Amy. I think that it was really inspiring to read the news and watch programs like this, learning about the Occupy Wall Street movement. As a result, in this protest, it wasn’t only Japanese workers there, but foreign workers. And for the first time, I think about 30 percent of us were immigrants. So I think the Occupy Wall Street movement really made us feel like it’s our opportunity, our time to invest ourselves in the Japanese community, to build a multicultural and socially just Japan. One of the people I talked to, I asked him why he was there, and his response was, "Because I can’t be on Wall Street." And I feel the same exact way. I can’t be on Wall Street, but I live in Japan, and there’s a way for me to show my support and really join to support the 99 percenters in—on Wall Street.
AMY GOODMAN: Linking up of the anti-nuclear movement in Japan and the rest of the world, the significance of this? I know people are coming from Japan to the United States to link up with activists here.
GEROME ROTHMAN: Well, the common thread is corporate greed. Corporate greed is what fuels industries like the nuclear power industry. I mean, TEPCO is a private company. It’s still a private company. I checked this morning, just to be sure for you. And this is—even people in our union—we have people in our union who support nuclear power, but even people in our union who do still agree that corporations must be accountable, must be accountable for making our energy safe, making our environment clean. And so, it’s about making sure that we don’t fuel our energy policy with corporate greed. We need to fuel our energy policy and our labor policy with a desire to improve human flourishing in countries like Japan and the United States.
As far as the linking up is concerned, I think that it needs to be a global, democratic movement, if we’re going to confront the evils of the nuclear power industry, if we’re going to confront the evils of unfair working conditions and unfair free—so-called free trade, free trade agreements, that just challenge our ability to have fair labor standards and fair environmental standards.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Gerome Rothman, I want to thank you for being with us, field director for the Tokyo General Union, largest foreign-led labor union in Japan, participated in the Occupy Tokyo movement over the weekend.