The Covid-19 emergency seen from Palermo, between social work with children and riots destined to widen

Wu Ming

by Totò Cavaleri *

1. “Home”, or whatever takes its place

Scrolling through the list of activities that the Dpcm of last March 22 defines as “essential”, arriving at the code Ateco 87 we find “residential social assistance services”. There were not many doubts, moreover, that the community in which I work would not have closed, also because for the five Italian boys and the five foreign boys who live there, that’s the only thing that comes close to the concept of « home”.

Indeed, for all of them #RestoaCasa means to stay in the community all day. For heaven’s sake, in some ways, it’s even better. At least you are in the company of other boys and a few adults, and certainly you are less bored.

But as if the #RestoaCasa decree was not explicit enough regarding the individual limitations for all citizens, the various institutions we are dealing with took care to write to us what was necessary to specifically suspend for the children of the community.■ The Public Prosecutor’s Office invited us to “prevent arbitrary removals in any way, even by locking the structures”, inviting us to report any abuse to the police.
■ The Juvenile Court suspended the entry of external people into the structure and denied any weekend return to the family.
■ The Police Headquarters has postponed the delivery of the residence permits until a later date.
■ The hospital has postponed the MRI booked three months earlier to better times.
■ Social Services canceled the appointment to meet a possible new foster family. The meetings with psychotherapists, guardians and social workers, goes without saying, all suspended.

In a nutshell, everyone communicated perfectly what these guys should n’t do, but nobody bothered to say how they can spend the days.

Obviously their schools are also closed. The older ones, included in job placement projects, saw the internship suspended the week before the possible hiring.

Even the football matches on the La Favorita lawn are skipped, as well as the basketball training of a boy playing in Serie B or the swimming course attended by the little ones.

Who has a girlfriend meets her only in kilometers video calls, made with very little privacy.

Thus, between the online teaching to be followed in the two computers available to everyone, long playstation tournaments, TV series, home gym and ball music sent simultaneously by three different bluetooth speakers, every day something new is invented to pass the day. At the bottom of the barrel they also found enthusiasm for hanging the rainbow banner with the words «We will all win together» on the balcony. The alternative, “We all cultivate dreams, but nobody is willing to hoe,” he lost on the ballot.

The days for the rest are marked by the update of 12.00 in the Sicilian Region and by 18.00 of the Civil Protection, to which is added the search for news on the evolution of the contagions in Gambia, Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Guinea and Guinea Bissau.

As with any teenager used to having a busy life, this new dimension also has something unreal for them. They have gone from living the days in constantly accelerated mode to an almost absolute slowdown.

Do we continue to ask ourselves what sense has it had to also prohibit the jog, or a solo walk, for children accustomed in some cases to doing competitive training or physical activity of various types every day?

To date they have responded well to the curfew, with a good spirit of adaptation. There was a great level of understanding of the situation and sharing of responsibilities. Previous conflicts have been pushed aside and personal dramas are also kept at bay.

But how long can this situation last?

The general suspension dimension has a strong alienating component for everyone, but when a residence permit has been awaited for months or, even more, when a judge is constantly summoned to present a new possible family, this sudden dimension out of time becomes unbearable.

2. I leave the house to go to another house

Once the entry into the community of friends, volunteers and trainees was suspended, only the group of operators who work in the structure remained to share the days with the boys, alternating, as always, in shifts that guarantee a 24-hour presence 24.

Yes, because while doing terrorism with #IoNonEsco, there are those who have to leave home every day.

And not only must he do it, but he must also pass three checkpoints of carabinieri, police and army, produce a different self-certification every week and undergo the inquisitive looks of those who, seeing him on the street, consider him as a greaser.

The reactions of colleagues to the coronavirus and its provisions have been varied: from those who were panicked to those who apparently kept their nerves. In one case or another, after all, at the end of the shift everyone must return regularly to their home, with legitimate concerns for their family members.

But none of the colleagues made mutual solidarity and attention to the boys fail. That is, no one has tried to find individual solutions to take time off work. Even for those who have been wrapped in fear at the idea of ​​leaving the house, it was clear that going on vacation or on parental leave, at this moment, would have put colleagues in difficulty and would have left the boys more alone.

Already in the first days all the operations necessary to sanitize the structure were carried out, and the procedures for possible future scenarios were prepared.

Everything that has been done, however, has been achieved thanks to the attention and goodwill of the entity we work for. Not all communities followed the same protocols. Many colleagues from other services have not received our same protections. By all the above institutions – Police Headquarters, Prosecutor, Court, Municipality, etc. – a thousand brochures arrived explaining what to do and what not to do. But no other support has arrived to help us stick to the protocols.

It must be said that virtue is also made of necessity. By now the shift has become the only opportunity to leave the house, a real dive into worldliness. Who happens to go out and meet ten other people these days? Honestly, a breath of fresh air. Also because, in the last few weeks, I have got into the habit of going to work on foot and giving myself those three kilometers of walking, thus avoiding taking the wasp. Until Musumeci decrees also on the means by which to go to work, I plan to continue doing so.

In any case, inevitably, the physicality inside the structure has substantially changed. We try to conform everyone’s behavior to the warnings that come. But, with all the attention that is possible, there are still a dozen people who share the same apartment and we are still talking about care work, also made of relational intimacy and human contact.

3. The “Heroes”

Comparing myself with colleagues and colleagues who work in other types of services, I realize that I am not so bad after all. Most of the other projects were blocked until new provisions: social counters, after-school activities, neighborhood workshops, oratories, campers who deal with addictions, centers stopped overnight anti-violence, street education projects …

Indeed, the streets have been closed. Everyone returned to their homes, closing the drama of the individual conditions within four walls.

Those who work in these services, to the concern for the fate of the people they followed, today must add that for their situation.

Many have realized that the “Cura Italia” decree does not care for those who care in Italy. Especially those who work for small associations, linked to project financing, often for clients of private foundations, find themselves today without any type of protection.

Far from being the realm of “the good”, the world of associations has been, over the years, a field of experimentation with precarious work techniques. For a painful heterogenesis of the ends, the push for equality instead of expanding the share of rights of the recipients, ended up stripping the operators themselves of their rights.

Social intervention has often been covered by presumptuous salvific assumptions. The epic of the “front line” and the rhetoric of the “trench” have produced sequels of experts on every aspect of marginality. Able only to feed a pulp gaze, poised between paternalistic paternalism and fascination with degradation.

The more you became Heroes of the condition of others, the more you became Martyrs of your own condition.

So-called “social work” (as if non-social work existed), even and especially at a time like this, tells us how the growth of inequality is not a side effect of decades of liberal policies, a sort of system dysfunction , but the direct consequence of a society organized starting from individual competition.

The condition of those who work in the world of associations remains stuck between an omnipotent salvific drive and a discouraged resignation to powerlessness, between the duty to offer solutions to all the evils of the world and finding oneself suddenly immersed up to the neck in those evils. .

The ambiguous formula of the “social enterprise” has ended up, once again, by lending its support to the mantra “less state plus market”.

Yet, with all limitations, social work in some contexts represents the only presence left to counter the spread of inequality. In many suburban neighborhoods the presence of associations represents the only possibility to access social spaces. Without the widespread and plural commitment of the third sector, entire social categories would be deeply denied their rights.

In these days of forced imprisonment, many are discussing which areas of intervention are still possible.

One wonders: what happens to social work when sociality is suspended?

But also: what happens to society, when social work also fails?

You surf on sight and try to invent impromptu answers. In these weeks in Palermo three community radios were suddenly born, you read fairy tales on the phone and you browse books by recording videos, organize animation at a distance and continue the video call talks.

4. If we don’t express criticism and conflict today, how can we do it tomorrow?

But above all, we begin to ask ourselves what it will be like next.

How will it be possible to recover the physicality on which our lives were based?
How are we going to rebuild social spaces and reclaim public spaces?
How are we going to put a dam on the growing inequality that will result from this period?
And how will it be possible to organize social networks to collectively protect us from unhappiness and loneliness?

Finally, how will it be possible to ask ourselves these questions tomorrow , if today we suspend any possibility of criticism and conflict?

As the psychotherapist Calogero Lo Piccolo writes in a recent article entitled “The management of the current and the ambassadors” , in which he talks about the costs, at the same time psychopathological and socio-political, of the current suspension of the social sphere:

“It is not only a problem of saving one’s life, it is not only a problem of safeguarding one’s mental health, it is also a problem, above all in some ways, of safeguarding the social space of politics, and of our being critically living subjects polis space as a basic need. “

5. Between despair and self-organization

In recent days, news from Palermo has aroused a lot of attention: in a hard discount store halfway between Cep and Cruillas, about fifteen people filled the shopping carts trying to leave without going through the checkouts, motivating, very clearly: “We have no money and we don’t want to pay . “

While the reactions of appreciation and promises of emulation multiplied on the various social networks, the clear condemnation of Mayor Leoluca Orlando arrived , who immediately defined the protagonists of the story as well as their fans as “jackals of the mafia undergrowth”.

It should be underlined how the mafia matrix was decreed on the basis of the semantic analysis of the imaginary characterizing the Facebook pages of the supporters. In any case, the Mayor’s invitation was to make a widespread denunciation: “I ask all citizens to report them to the police authorities, to report their accounts as promoters of violence to the administrators of social networks so that they are immediately blocked.”

In the meantime , garrisons of carabinieri, financiers and policemen have been organized in front of the big hypermarkets of the city.

Click to enlarge.

Whether it was “proletarian expropriations” or “looting”, this event testifies in any case the drama of the consequences of this period in contexts already very poor as Palermo. We can bet that such events will be more frequent in the times to come. And criminalizing them won’t help improve the situation.

In the first three days, 1800 families registered on the Municipality portal to request food aid. On the local pages of Repubblica today, in an article on Coronavirus poverty , the figure of 50 thousand Palestinians left without income is indicated. But it seems a downward estimate, considering that even before the coronavirus the unemployment rate in the city was at 17.7% and the inactive citizens were 49.6% .

The Albergheria second-hand market before the emergency (2019).

Finally, I would like to point out an initiative born from below in Ballarò on the initiative of the Sbaratto association, made up of street vendors in the illegal second-hand market, for years the protagonists of a dispute to see their business recognized and often stigmatized as the main threat to decorum urban. In the last few days, once the market was closed and the stalls were put aside, they have mobilized themselves to distribute food and basic necessities in a widespread way throughout the Albergheria district.


Totò Cavaleri lives in Palermo, where he alternates with the role of activist of the movements those of the social worker. In both roles he dealt with teenagers, refugees and interventions in the suburbs. He currently works in a housing community for minors. On some of the topics covered in the article he edited the volumes uoghi d’Artificio. Narratives of the metropolis at the time of the crisis (Navarra, 2011) and The useless effort. Subjectivity and mental distress in the contemporary capitalist ethos (Mimesis, 2016).

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11 comments on “ The Covid-19 emergency seen from Palermo, between social work with children and riots destined to widen ”

  1. Marco Gentili03/28/2020 at 4:06 pmYesterday on the national Repubblica.it site they wonder about inexplicable eugenic issues, with an ethnic-racial background and about the lack of data to support or not the hypothesis that African migrants (60 countries) are hardly affected by Covid-19 …https://www.repubblica.it/cronaca/2020/03/27/news/migranti_africani_poco_colpiti_improbabile_ma_non_ci_sono_dati-252427582/?ref=RHPPTP-BH-I252331136-C8-P8-S5.4-T1&fbclid=IwAR0Q6hV_Kz8tITaJTsgbZx3wODEU15OpQwIdC1fOfpoYUyRz9m5ng1FtoHAEmbarrassing to say the least.Log in to reply
  2. Kola03/28/2020 at 5:25 pmThank you for your precious testimony!
    Unfortunately you can imagine how the news of the assato was received on average at the supermarket in Palermo here in the north …
    The usual stereotypes and invocations of intervention of the exec, even by people who are showing intolerance for the restrictive measures imposed.Log in to reply
    • Wu Ming 103/28/2020 at 5:44 pmIn fact, a Nordic friend of mine yesterday said to me: “Maybe the riots in the South will make us breathe too”.Log in to reply
      • Kola03/28/2020 at 6:01 pmMaybe I exaggerated in generalizing, but I assure you that in my part the empathy towards the southerners is quite low in general, and this situation is no exception, on the contrary, my impression is that in the last few weeks all the hyper-localist tendencies and regional selfishness … [Continue reading]Log in to reply
        • Wu Ming 103/28/2020 at 10:09 pmThe «episode of Palermo», «looting» or «expropriation of the proletariat», together with other manifestations of strong tension and a change of general mood (from the balconies no one sings anymore, the tricolors have melted, the flash-mobs at the window are already forgotten), has put a huge squeeze on the government. The expression «turned … [Continue reading]Log in to reply
          • toto03/28/2020 at 10:57 pmUntil yesterday there was no talk of anything but the Korean model, and total profiling of travel, then 15 people try not to pay the groceries at the supermarket, and suddenly the agenda changes completely. If nothing else, the Palermo episode has the merit of having brought out the explosiveness of the situation. Da … [Continue reading]Log in to reply
  3. plumb03/28/2020 at 6:29 pmIn these days, “because of the decrees” and the constraints imposed in the form of martyrdom, I reacted to the curfew by continuing to go out and intensifying the urban monitoring activities of some pre-existing situations which are at a higher risk of total removal / cancellation . Among these, normally, … [Continue reading]Log in to reply
    • toto03/28/2020 at 7:00 pmTotally agree with what you write. In fact, I tried to avoid the romantic tones of the “intervention towards the least”. Indeed, I have tried to give an account of a complex reality, which over the years has increasingly divested social intervention from its political assumptions. The social enterprise has become more and more business and always … [Continue reading]Log in to reply
      • plumb03/28/2020 at 9:21 pmYes. But it is obviously clear that the perspective from which you look at this temporal suspension, in the cosmic void of the “quarantine, is that of those who are concerned with essential needs in terms of mental survival. When you say: they told us what we shouldn’t do but they didn’t tell us what we can … [Continue reading]Log in to reply
  4. AlexJC03/28/2020 at 7:07 pmEven in the “quiet” cities of the center such as my Terni one begins to feel that the #statetuttiacasa works less. Perhaps it is because the 5,000 Ast + workers induced if it had not been for mass disobedience between strikes and disease certificates (until an agreement was reached on the cig … [Continue reading]Log in to reply
  5. plumb03/29/2020 at 9:47 am400,000 million vouchers allocated. The mathematical equation is: let’s see if, with a full stomach, you still break my balls or if you think of breaking them. This is a state that if we wanted to use the hateful metaphor of the parent with all his paternalism, he has always thought … [Continue reading]