THE BLOG
02/03/2014 10:42 am ET Updated Apr 05, 2014

Will Passion Save Italy?

Last Sunday I went to Ostia, the "beach of the Romans," 15 miles from the city's center. It was a sunny day and a stroll by the sea was very pleasant. But the reason I was there was to participate in an "agora," a meeting of people in the square, much as the ancient Greeks and Romans did. The agora was arranged by a few members of the Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S), the "Five Star Movement," currently serving in opposition in the Italian parliament. The square was full of people of every age: mothers with their babies in strollers, young students, and men and women of various ages and social class. I was surprised and happy to see so many people, knowing my compatriots well and their apathy regarding the political process and issues related to the common good. More than 11 million out of a total of 45 million on the electoral rolls chose not to exercise their right to vote at the last elections in 2013.

The fact is Italy is suffering its worst crisis since WWII, and it is difficult to explain to a foreigner why we allow this to happen. Historical and anthropological reasons aside, Italians find it hard to believe in the possibility of change when almost daily new revelations of corruption and theft emerge, committed by politicians and officials at the highest levels of government, public administration and industry.

But my experience at the agora belied the myth that "everyone is the same." Apart from political faith, what I witnessed Sunday was an outpouring of passion in which the entire crowd was swept up. These guys of the M5S are very committed, prepared and willing to challenge and change the system, not least the commonly held perception that "it's not worth it anymore..." In so doing, they strike a resonant chord with the people, especially those who still believe change is possible, but, until the rise of the M5S at the last elections where it garnered 25 percent of the vote, had no political movement to represent them.

Certainly, the M5S members appear very committed to change, as evidenced by a serious work ethic and the fact that they refund a large part of their salaries to the state. Luigi di Maio, M5S member and current vice president of the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of parliament) has an official monthly salary of 20,000 euros, from which he draws 3,000 as an actual salary along with another 2,000 to cover authorized expenses related to his official function. The rest he returns to the state. When he was asked "why?" by a television interviewer, he replied that beside the message it sent related to the common good, "too much money can easily corrupt."

The M5S also refused to accept 42 million euros in electoral reimbursements to which it was entitled, along with other amounts over the last 11 months, for a total of 52 million euros. And M5S members prefer the title "Citizen" instead of "Honorable." A drop in the ocean, you might say, but a very good example. Albeit the only one, currently, in this depressed and hungry country.

Listening to the M5S, after 12 months in parliament, the message is clear: if you are honest, commit yourself and work hard, change is possible. They are positive about the future. Like Paola Taverna, member of the 12th Permanent Health Commission of the Senate, who says, "Despite appearances, I do have hope for the future of our country. Our role as an opposition force is to unmask the tricks that the government is trying to pass. There is an enormous amount of work to do in the parliament, but most important for us is to be among the people and tell them what's going on." Taverna is a young mother, a former employee at a pharmaceutical company and very passionate about her new job. She says, "Look around the square. Just one year ago, this was a country that wasn't interested anymore in what's going on. Now people participate more and more. They do understand that only by doing so can we build our future. This is our greatest battle and our greatest victory. We want to bring politics back to the people, to activate the consciousness that the people have the power."

"There is not only Mamma mia in our country, as the last cover of the Economist was titled," says Alessandro Di Battista, vice president of the Foreign and Community Affairs Commission. "There is a great major healthy part in our society, also among parties and politicians. It is simply obscured by a few who hold the power and don't listen to the needs of the majority. We have to communicate more and more in every way that change is possible. In being on the streets among the common citizens we will reach more and more people, and I do believe the results of the next European elections will show that we are right. Maybe we are right, maybe not. But at least we are trying."

Said that, will you believe that passion will save Italy?