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I spoke with someone recently about the much contested Children’s Crusade, whether it took place, whether the participants were children, whether they stopped at the Red Sea and got into boats subsequently drowning,  or waded in. Out of the debate, which is an interesting but distressing read, it is clear that at some point in the early 1200’s bands of poor designated as “pueri” (Latin pl for boys)– with the colloquial meaning of wayward youth (an appellation that could have been applied to adults as well as the wandering poor as a class)– did come together in medieval Christian fervor to march to Jerusalem, and in a second wave tried to get over the Alps to see the Pope and then back again, many of them dying in both cases.  For a great take on this confusing bit of history, click here.

My immediate reaction, having not thought about all of this in many years and simplistic though it may be: where the f…. were the parents?

I’m having the same reaction over my discovery of something many other people already know about, the  southern Italian youth movement  Amazzatecci Tutti— Kill Us All.

AT has come into being in reaction to the tyranny of the ‘Ndragheta, the Calabrian Mafia that has overcome the southernmost region of the country in recent years.

Why has it been up to the young people of Italy, first in the region of Calabria where the ‘ndragheta makes its home, to take up this fight?  Where are the parents.

Prior to the inception of  AT, the parents had at the very least, given up on themselves and their country…and their children’s future.

I had been writing a spin-off of my memoir Nightfall in Verona, when I ran across accounts of the region’s turmoil in the years since my romantic weeks in the town of Reggio Calabria. For the past week I’ve been reading and reading, translating polemical passages by the fertile populist/activist coalition La Rete per la Calabria— which Google will also try to translate when you go to the group’s blog– and yesterday, I read the January 2010 speech by Rosanna Scolpitelli,   head of AT, about her father, Judge  Antonio Scolpitelli, who was gunned down by hitmen on the order of Cosa Nostra on the eve of a decision in Italy’s biggest anti-Mafia trial, the Maxi-Trial, in 1996.

Rosanna was seven when her father was shot.  She is unafraid to poetically articulate her grief (in re this speech, Google translate does a passable job) in front of thousands of people.  Her commitment to the Resistance and the commitment she has inspired among Italian young people is mind-blowing.

The original seven teenagers, standing in the Reggio strada.

When I look at photographs of children– teenagers– marching in the streets carrying a banner that reads Adesso, Ammazzateci Tutti– So Go Ahead, Kill Us All– something is stirred deep within me– terrible sorrow and fear over the darkness in the world.

There is no greater darkness than the black hearts and souls of the Mob bosses with their “omorta”– Code of Silence, and the barbaric, byzantine  Code of Honour which has meant the deaths of many Italian women.

In May  populist outrage over the Italian government’s indifference to the chokehold of the regional  Mafias spilled into the streets of Milan 100,000 strong.  Past time.  Thanks to Robert Saviano’s expose of the Camorra, the Naples Mob, in his memoir Gamorrah, worldwide awareness of Italy’s impotence where the Mob is concerned has been elevated to a degree, perhaps motivating the government to a minor extent to date.  Saviano, living under police protection Somewhere, blogs at the Huff Post.

It all makes me feel that I don’t have any real problems despite my confessions and complaints on this blog and that our problems are minor compared to living with such a direct and entrenched threat of violence.  Our children are not taking to the streets because adults won’t step up; we don’t live in the degree of poverty seen among the African migrant workers under Mafia lash in Rosarno or among the people too poor to move or leave left in Calabria.

From the Website :

“La prima apparizione pubblica dell’embrione del Movimento è stata fatta a Locri il 19 ottobre del 2005. in occasione dei funerali dell’On. Francesco Fortugno, quando un primo nucleo di sette ragazzi espone insieme all’ideatore Aldo Pecora l’ormai famoso striscione di sfida alla mafia “E adesso ammazzateci tutti”. Seppur provenienti da tutta la provincia di Reggio Calabria, i ragazzi partecipanti alle manifestazioni di ribellione furono ribattezzati dai media come “i ragazzi di Locri”.

19th October, 2005

The first manifestation of the embryonic Movement came in Locri (Calabria)  on October 19, 2005, on the occasion of the funeral of the Honorable Francesco Fortugno, when the first nucelus of seven boys came together carrying the banner “E adesso ammazzateci tutti”–  And So Then, Kill Us All….

Successivamente già alla grande manifestazione popolare del 4 novembre 2005 a Locri, a cui parteciparono oltre 15.000 persone, il neo-costituiuto Movimento spontaneo “Ammazzateci tutti” svolse un ruolo chiave nell’organizzazione dell’evento mettendo online il sito internet http://www.ammazzatecitutti.org, che in una sola settimana dalla messa in rete ha registrato più di 200.000 contatti.

Subsequently at the great populist demonstration of November 4 in Locri in which another 15,000 participated, key objectives and events were set forth and put on line on the website that in one month registered more than 200,000 contacts.

Dal marzo 2006 il Movimento sta promuovendo un disegno di legge (giacente in Parlamento dal 1992).  Punto forte di questo disegno di legge, il cui articolato consta di tre semplici disposti, è il divieto di propaganda elettorale a chi sottoposto misure di sorveglianza speciale. Secondo la tesi proposta, infatti, è impensabile che in Italia il mafioso possa perdere elettorato attivo e passivo ma possa comunque condizionare gli esiti elettorali sponsorizzando candidati di sua fiducia. Il DdL impone, qualora accertato il compromesso stretto tra il mafioso ed il candidato eventualmente eletto, il decadimento immediato dalla carica elettiva di quest’ultimo.

Since March 2006, the Movement  has been promoting a bill (lying in the Parliament since 1992) on three key points:
the prohibition of electioneering by someone under surveillance/suspicion.  Secondly that it become  unthinkable that in Italy the mafia might lose the right to vote but can affect elections by backing its candidates.  That the Ddl  (bill) insure,when complicity between the mafia and an elected candidate,  that official’s career is over.

Il 24 marzo 2006 il Movimento convoca un’Assemblea pubblica a Palazzo Nieddu del Rio, a Locri, dove invita tutti i candidati alle Elezioni Politiche a sottoscrivere un patto d’onore per l’appoggio al DdL in caso di elezione al Parlamento. Oltre 50 candidati sottoscrivono questo impegno.
Ad oggi, dopo la pubblica sponsorizzazione dei ragazzi del movimento, hanno sottoscritto questo disegno di legge oltre 150 deputati e 50 senatori di maggioranza e opposizione.

On March 24 2006 The Movement convened a public assembly in Locri where it invited all of the candidates to sign a pact of support for the bill in the event of their election.  Over 50 candidates signed this document.  Subsequently another 150 deptuties and 50 senators have signed.

Il 2 giugno 2006 organizza un “presidio di legalità” con oltre 500 persone presso il ristorante “Al Valantain” in località Santa Trada di Villa San Giovanni, costretto a chiudere dopo innumerevoli attentati, tentativi di estorsione e minacce di morte, ed i cui titolari, la famiglia Mazza, sono costretti ad emigrare all’estero per tentare di rifarsi una vita.

On June 2 2006 AT organized a conference on the rule of law at the Al Valantain Restaurant in San Viovanni– the restaurant was forced to closed after innumerable attacks, threats of extortion and deth and the owners, the Maza family were forced to emigrate abroad to save their lives.

The Group’s fiats continue in English:

Earlier in 2006 AT and other organizations and individuals formed La Rete per la Calabria– a coalition of  anti-Mafia groups and individuals. The blog La Rete provides updates on the war against the ‘NDragheta and other Mafia organizations.

On the 17th February, 2006, “Ammazzateci Tutti” convened a demonstration called “ Mafia: permission denied”; over 5,000 kids from all over the “boot” took to the streets of Reggio Calabria (where they could easily have been gunned down).   Judge Paolo Borsellino: “If the youth refuse their consent, even the almighty and mysterious Mafia will vanish like a nightmare.”

This event saw the participation of family members of victims of the ‘Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra together with mothers of children victims of “Lupara Bianca” ( a missing murder victim, killed without a trace of evidence).

On the 30th  May 2007, “Ammazzateci Tutti”  stepped it up with its own “amicus brief,” submitting a formal request in a civil trial against the alleged instigators and executors of the murder of  Fortugno. The movement is the only “non-institutional” group to have done this, working with the Region of Calabria, the Province of Reggio Calabria and the town of Locri.

The national meeting “Legalitàlia”

On the 9-11 August 2007, at the sixteenth anniversary of the murder of  the Judge Antonino Scopelliti, “Ammazzateci Tutti”  together with  the “Antonino Scopelliti Foundation” promoted and organized in Reggio Calabria “Legalitàlia”, the first national meeting of young anti-Mafia, hosting in Reggio Calabria before an audience of nearly 300 young delegates from associations and youth movements some of the greatest Italian and Italian Mafia experts, including journalists, lawyers and social workers.

The second edition of the meeting was held in Reggio Calabria  on  the 8-10 August 2008.

The third edition of the meeting (Reggio Calabria, 9-10 August 2009) saw the participation of important international guests, such as the Consul General of the United States Patrick Truhn.

Among the many initiatives promoted and organized by “Ammazzateci Tutti” most notable are those in memory of the Judge Giovanni Falcone, organized every year on 23rd of May in various Italian regions and “Regional days of legality “, promoted on a national scale thanks to the coordination of regional and provincial movements.

“Ammazzateci Tutti” today

Currently the Movement promotes a number of legislative actions in the fight against organized crime, such as the acceleration of Mafia trials, constantly risking  the unthinkable.  AT  is a national anti-Mafia movement with peripheral coordination in Calabria, Sicily, Lazio, Lombardy, Veneto and Puglia.”

Is there any possible doubt that these are amazing kids whose actions constitute a worldwide mandate to wake up and fight tyranny on every hand?

Reading about the organization and working with the very rough translation on the site, I am humbled by the commitment of these young people..  You would have to have a heart of stone to gun down children but as we all know, it happens every day, all over the world, in the wars we sustain in Afghanistan and Iraq and in other parts of the world where a nation’s sons and daughters are “collateral damage”.

Out of all of this I have found myself incorporating Amazzatecci Tutti into my novella, with the ROS– the anti-Mafia arm of the Italian Carbinieri although I have many doubts about the integrity and efficacy of the ROS.  My character has been radicalized by what she has witnessed, and through her, I can do something that might bring hope and meaning into a few lives down the line– who knows.

The death of  poet and blogger Alan Sullivan yesterday, leaving his translation of the King David  Psalms from the Hebrew unfinished to his own satisfaction, brings home the fact that those of us who care about the world should do something today rather than leaving it for tomorrow.