Thousands of people staged a sit-in overlooking Rome’s ancient forum Saturday to protest what they call the city’s degradation under the populist Five Star Movement.
Organizers estimated 22,000 people attended the peaceful protest. Police have not confirmed an official number.
The idea for Saturday’s demonstration was sparked when a city bus caught fire last May, said Emma Amiconi, one of six organizers of “Roma Dice Basta,” or Rome Says Enough. “Citizens are exasperated with daily life,” she told CNN.
Organizers blame Virginia Raggi, the first female mayor of Rome and a Five Star representative. They argue that the movement lacks leadership experience to run a city as complex as Rome.
“We hear daily lies from the mayor that everything is fine, that they are working on fixing the problems of previous city administrations. But the truth is that they have no experience,” said Amiconi.
Among the biggest problems is sporadic garbage collection that has encouraged rats, seagulls and even wild boars to feed on the festering mess.
Lorenzo Laurenti, a biologist attending the demonstration, held a poster showing pictures of some of the degradation in central Rome.
“Rome is in the worst condition I have ever seen in my life in the two last years,” he told CNN, referring to the period of time the Five Star Movement has been in power.
“We are here to say Basta! No! This is the Eternal City, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, so we have to cure, to love the city. The city is not loved by this administration. This is hate.”
Public transportation also poses a major problem.
Some 42% of the city’s buses and trams are out of service because of maintenance needs or age, says the association Mobilitiamo Roma, which has organized a referendum on privatizing the public transportation company.
The bus fire last May happened two blocks from the Trevi Fountain. Tourists, shoppers and commuters had to be quickly evacuated.
These problems lead to a lack of service, long waits at bus stops and frequent strikes by angry drivers who are also fed up with the administration.
But serious issues exist with infrastructure, as well. On Tuesday, 24 Russian soccer fans in Rome for a match were injured when an escalator down into a central subway station rapidly sped up and then collapsed.
Rome’s Public Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the incident. A representative from ATAC, Rome’s public transport company, said that “all maintenance checks of the escalator were carried out regularly and the results were in accordance to the norms.”
Roads with potholes have been fatal, especially when rainwater collects on the streets because the storm sewers have not been cleaned. Last summer, after a young woman died when her moped hit a pothole, a citizens group started painting fluorescent green and yellow circles around deep holes to warn drivers.
Some of those attending Saturday’s demonstration draped themselves in orange construction fencing to reflect their concern over infrastructure.
“Rome does not belong to the Romans, but to all of humanity,” Amiconi said. “We have to take care of it.”