ROME – While Italy welcomes Donald Trump for his short yet meaningful meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, not to mention encounters with both the Italian Prime Minister and President, some here took to the streets under the slogan “Rome Resists” to protest against the president’s controversial policies.
The demonstration took place May 23 in Piazza Bologna, the closest setting organizers could find to the U.S. Embassy, where Trump and his staff are staying during the visit.
It was organized mostly by the American Expats for Positive Change (AEPC Italy) and the Women’s March Rome organizations, to denounce the Trump administration on a wide array of issues, from foreign intervention to immigration.
No more than 100 people were present at the event representing, for the most part, the small yet vocal community of expats in Rome. Protesters were invited to promote the event on social media with the hashtag #UnitedWeStand.
The president “does not respect his office, he doesn’t respect the rule of law, and we are just not going to sit back even though we are 500 miles away from Washington,” Robert Samors, an organizer of the protest of Women’s March in Rome, which organized a protest against Trump back in February, told Crux.
Samors, who hails from Washington, D.C., believes that during the meeting with the American president, Pope Francis should guide him toward respect for human rights and the environment.
The pope should tell Trump “that he has a duty and an obligation as the leader of the free world to behave in a way that is respectful of humanity, the planet and the rights of individuals” Samors told Crux.
“Yes there are challenges, there are problems that need to be addressed but there is a way to do them and there is a way not to do them and the way he (Trump) has been doing it is the way not to do it,” he said.
Anti-Trump banners and posters littered the small corner of the square that the protesters occupied and participants could fashion their own slogans with paper and markers offered by the organizers.
Reuben Snipper, a participant also hailing from Washington D.C., told Crux that having lived in South America, he understands the mentality of the Argentinian pope.
“I really admire Pope Francis,” Snipper told Crux, adding that during the meeting, the pope should try to remind the president about the importance of catering to the poor.
Among the mostly Anglophone protest, some Italians stood out shouting their discontent in their native language. Marinella Corvaggi, who works for the advocacy group “No War,” could be seen listing on a sheet of paper the conflicts recently initiated by the West, including Trump, around the world.
“We are here because Trump is the essence of all the worst things,” Corvaggi said pointing to his military interventions abroad. “What more can Trump do for people to come demonstrate?”
Yet the number of protesters was considerably small, and the large number of armed forces deployed by the Italian government to prevent any escalation stood by serenely, knowing that this would be an easy day on the job.
“We have tried with ‘No War’ to organize something tomorrow,” Corvaggi said, referring to when President Trump will actually be meeting with Italian leaders and Pope Francis. “But no one answered our requests.”
The Italian activist jokingly said that the pope should have told the Trump administration that his mother was sick in order to find an excuse and get out of the meeting.
“People like this,” Corvaggi said, referring to Trump, “should not be met. By meeting them, you change nothing about their way of thinking.”
Eugene Wauman, who is studying abroad in Rome and was a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, was a bit more optimistic about the historic encounter between the two highly influential leaders.
According to Wauman, the pope should remind Trump of what drove his campaign to begin with, that is, “to break up the politics as usual in Washington, and actually get rid of the lobbying and the corruption in the government.”
Cheers erupted as soon as organizers rolled out a banner reading “Rome resists” quickly followed by chants such as “no hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here” and “hands too small, can’t build a wall.”
Despite some positive remarks on the effects of the Trump/Francis summit, many participants were less optimistic.
Anna Leeza Pichnarchik told Crux that Pope Francis should use the meeting to “continue with what he has been saying, and that is a message of unity, a message of inclusiveness, a message that everyone is an immigrant, everyone should be welcomed with open arms and to not vilify others just because they are from a different background from what you are used to.”
Still, she added, “Trump is a bit of a wild card, so I don’t think it would do much apart from putting a nice interview out.”
Laura Carlo, an Italian protester, agreed.
“The problem is that I think there isn’t anything that can be said to this man because he does not understand, or does not want to understand,” she said.
But for Jessica Chaoui, a student abroad from California, the main thing the pope should tell Trump during their highly anticipated encounter is “that he needs God in his life.”