16 January 2011, Pontremoli and Viareggio, Italy
It is a most amazing Sunday at Podere Conti. The church bells are more gussied today than on other days of the week, and the peaks seem to have defined themselves more thoroughly for the occasion. My American metrosexual dachshund has been let out to frolic indiscriminately on acres of olive orchard. A three-week old baby is sleeping in his buggy outside my front door as I write, and the neighboring shepherd’s goat bells are like distant wind chimes winding down the road. Since I arrived on Wednesday, it has been sunny and cool, then quite cold at night, particularly last night, for my first real outing, when I found myself in a Communist Party meeting room in the seaside town of Viareggio, for a screening of the latest Zeitgeist film. As you can well imagine, offering to host a free event does not guarantee that the venue will be heated, even in January. In this case, it wasn’t.
The opportunity to meet an English girl at the bottom of the mountain and ride with her for about an hour to see an American radical film with Italian subtitles, on the night of its global premier, was a no-brainer. I have been vaguely familiar with the Zeitgeist movement via Youtube, but I wasn’t aware of the movement’s success in mobilization. Moreover, I hadn’t been aware that there are others whose minds are absolutely racing in a call to action based on the most supreme of truths: The human being is not getting what he really needs and, as a result, is destroying his planet. As I fastened my seatbelt beside Laura in her English Volkswagen Polo, the conversation simply erupted into the underpinnings of this and other related movements. In a few short days, I can already liken my time here in Italy to the journey of “The Alchemist,” a book I now wish I had tossed into my baggage for reference.
Without something to fight for, something to believe in, or passion of any kind, in fact, there is premature death. Misery dwells in complacency, disguising itself as disappointment, aging, or even worse, numbness. Activism comes in all forms from personal (standing up to one’s own illness and beating it) to a cause (animal rescue) to a movement (Zeitgeist.) This was certainly the most orderly grassroots effort I’d ever seen, and with the added charm of a freezing-cold underground environment at the Communist Party meeting room in the outskirts of town. A laptop computer was attached to a projection system and aimed at the front wall over a meeting table. Two ghosts of wall brackets, likely formerly the home of a pair of “hi-fi” speakers marked the border of the projection space. There were folding chairs everywhere. And there was a snack buffet. Pear juice. Orange juice. Still or sparkling water. Focaccia. And some small sandwiches with pate or salame. There was wood-looking Formica paneling, and the floor was rather institutionally speckled. I loved it.
Sixty-ish people, crowded in, were all in their late-thirties to mid-forties, which surprised me. Radicalism seems congruent with youth, a sense of idealism and hope. Perhaps the image of these underground meeting groups has more of an Old World, all-ages feel than the American youth movements that take on a more rebellious tone. Zeitgeist obviously resonates with a broader, more fed-up global, educated society that is coming into light. This was the global premier of Zeitgeist 3: Moving Forward, showing in hosting cities around the world on this night, in diverse venues offered to the cause. Unlike with other related media, I was delighted to see this one offering a well-thought-out plan, a resolution for human lack, preventative of suffering or the need to commit evil deeds, all based on human needs being met in a sustainable way.
I got a mental snapshot of audience’s spirit during the 10-minute break, and there were no wallflowers. There were also no shouters. There was an enthusiasm, a productive discontent well-dressed with a call to action. And a sense of calm, for this was not the environment to complain about the ills of the global market structure, but rather, to correct it. The discussion of solutions, possibility, and change, as opposed to that of “what’s wrong” has less emotion and is not charged with bitterness. Hence, not draining. Energizing, in fact. I’m not saying that I am joining the movement, nor that I didn’t have my own set of questions as to what baby would be tossed with the bathwater. I am simply embracing the fact that a problem, no matter the size, offers much to the spirit of a global community if it can be addressed, discussed, and analyzed by hungry minds in a pop-up venue. Shouting matches and finger-pointing feed the demons we’re fighting against, in any debate, don’t you see? Strategic means of problem solving is a discipline that feeds the soul with hope. Shouting and complaining are merely hidden forms of complacency, a sign of resigning to discontent. So, isn’t it safe to say that self-sustainability can also include the sustainability of the mind feeding the soul and the soul feeding the mind?
This was no Tea Party. This was the birth of a movement of educated means, scholars and planners lending themselves to solution-based intent. No one raised his voice. It was an open invitation to get involved and represent a movement toward self-reliant communities replacing a dysfunctional, dependent infrastructure. Political antagonism and religion were clearly checked at the door. It gives me great hope that a movement born of discontent far beyond the low-hanging, media-fueled pseudo-radicalism of political extremism comes from the United States, and is gaining global traction. If only the components could be used as a business model for all things political… if only we could infuse issues with tireless research and conduct debates from a place of authentic belief, rather than desperation and greed, or even racism… If only education could provide the tools for productive discussion, regardless of its outcome. That alone would be my American Utopia. But for now, I sit nestled in the hills of Liguria, fingers tingling from the cold with a pink nose to match, learning about the ways of others, of a basic human nature that soaks through the cloth of culture and landscape.
My fundamental primal needs are completely met at this time, spiritually, emotionally, vocationally, and intellectually, and I find myself free to explore unidentified places beyond an earlier scope. This is the goal of Zeitgeist, and I can see, even in the smallest of ways, that there is wisdom beyond measure, in assuring the basic needs of society, in the interest of the greater ones. What that looks like, I don’t know. Everyone must pull his weight in one way or another. For starters, the tools for non-violent communication: Education and exposure.