SOS – We are dying here

Mar 25, 2014Archive

Voices from Partinico to illustrate the problems of the victims of the earthquake …

Two of Danilo Dolci collaborators, Franco Alasia and Pino Lombardo, barricaded themselves into Centro Studi e Iniziative premises; they have a quite powerful radio with which they broadcast news and radio documentaries about the conditions of the victims of the earthquake on 98,5 mhz modulation frequency and on shortwave m 20.10.

The radio station can be received all across the Italian territory and from some locations abroad; according to them, the signal could also be received in the U.S. This is a new form of protest planned to show to the public audience the conditions of people living in the Belice, Carboj and Jato valley after the tragic earthquake, which happened on January 15th 1968. Two years have passed since then and there is still no sign of reconstruction.

(Giornale di Sicilia, 26th March 1970).


The first Italian free radio broadcasts started with a secretive transmission, aimed at denouncing the conditions of Belice Valley, as two years had passed since 1968 earthquake, and at protesting against the carelessness of the Italian State and the waste of the public funds, provided for the reconstruction.

Radio Libera di Partinico (Partinico Free Radio) is a clear example of activism, targeted at raising awareness, along with producing common good. As it has been often mentioned in many contributions, Dolci’s commitment should be intended firstly as an important action, aimed at recreating civil society as a mix of opinions, a competition between different ideas interacting within the State. According to Dolci, to create a radio meant to have the opportunity of giving a different point of view, to say something that the others would never say: this is essential for civil society.

As a consequence, by starting Radio Libera we attempted to encourage a democratic mobilization at a national and local level (Western Sicily), making people aware of specific issues.

Nowadays, we might affirm that Danilo Dolci’s experience has been the first free radio experience in Italy. It has contributed to open up a social and political phenomenon that has changed the radio system in Italy and abroad. Throughout the Seventies, lots of independent radios were born and have been named libere (free), in order to face a contraposition with RAI broadcasts, which were considered to be too much entangled in political power schemes and to be too much restricted in the style of their programmes (Menduini, 1994). Free radios used different modalities to spread another kind of information, through the usage of new technologies. It was therefore important to choose between the institutional information and the alternative information or “counter-information”, as it has been named.

As a matter of fact, Radio Libera di Partinico was characterized by its revolutionary and protesting essence, since those were its aims and scopes. As it might be deducted from the annexes to this article, some of which have never been published before, everything was well planned and organized in detail, due to a long and attentive preparation work. At the beginning, Dolci and his collaborators got the idea of broadcasting from a ship anchored in international waters. In order to elude the Italian Law, all the expenses for the ship and the navigation instruments needed had been accounted, but this idea was abandoned soon for the unforeseeable sea conditions and for the preventable arrest of the people responsible for the action, after they would have come back in territorial waters, along with the wish not to interfere with radio communications of public utility services (such as Punta Raisi Air traffic control).

After having abandoned the idea of broadcasting from the ship, they chose to transmit from the mainland, from Partinico and its Centro Studi ed Iniziative premises. Having been planned with accuracy, the initiative was supported by experts in telecommunications and related jurisdiction. Some of them were Danilo Dolci’s friends. The action had been implemented secretively, in order to avoid the intervention of the security forces: the antennas necessary to the broadcasts had been lifted up on the roof of Centro Studi after the sunset, a few minutes before the program would have started.

In order to involve as many people as possible and to keep the initiative secret to those who may have interfered or compromised it, they organized a strike and a demonstration through Partinico streets, so as to show their support to people living in the areas destroyed by the earthquake. By making use of demonstrators, they closed Largo Scalia, where the Centro Studi was located. When they reached the centre, Dolci revealed the real aim of the initiative. Thanks to a small radio set on Radio Libera frequencies, he made protesters listen to the programs broadcasted from Centro Studi.

Pino Lombardo and Franco Alasia, two of Danilo Dolci’s collaborators, had barricaded themselves inside Centro Studi with broadcasting instruments and a generator, so as to be prepared in case the security forces would have cut off power. For this reason, broadcasts had originally been recorded by Antonio Uccello and Danilo Dolci. They consisted of a plurality of voices, denouncing the existing conditions in Belice, Jato and Carboj Valley.

Recordings were enriched by some musical tracks, selected with accuracy so as to express the artistic and cultural richness of the territory, such as some Scarlati’s pieces, or “A Sicilia camina” (Walking Sicily) written by Ignazio Buttitta. Two radios broadcasted (one on modulation frequency MF-UA m 98.5 and the other one on shortwaves m 20 . 10), because they wanted to reach as many listeners as possible. The program was introduced by a SOS. It lasted four hours and it was also translated in English and transmitted several times till the security forces arrived.

The most important feature of Danilo Dolci’s initiatives, extremely simple and easy at times, was their singularity. All Danilo Dolci’s friends, who dealt with the cultural world, were always informed and involved in his initiatives, so that they could give their contribution and prestigious support (see Calvino’s and Galtung’s messages). The timing for the initiatives to be launched was always chosen carefully, they were always supported by several participants and involved great personalities; the security forces were always kept informed. Everything was planned with accuracy, so as to spread the event among public audience. Radio Libera experience, along with other forms of protests organized by Danilo Dolci, appealed to citizens, to all the population so as to raise their awareness towards common issues. In this sense we might say that Danilo Dolci worked towards constructing common initiatives, with the purpose of claiming common goods. The dam, the right to work for Partinico unemployed people, the fight against Mafia, the Educational Centre in Mirto and the reconstruction of areas struck by earthquake: these are all common goods. But the radio did not last for a long time, as the other radios which were successfully developed later (Giornale di Sicilia, 27th March 1970).

So it ended Radio Libera experience: by opening a flaming debate on the usage of the radio, at people’s service. One of the most singular and effective protest actions for the reconstruction of Belice, Carboj and Jato areas struck by the earthquake. Below you can read the introductory message to the broadcasts and some solidary messages sent by famous intellectuals, along with the documents that had been used for preparing these programs. The texts related to “Initial considerations” and “Some preliminary considerations” have been found in the archive of Centro Studi ed Iniziative. In those documents, it is possible to identify the motivations which have inspired Danilo Dolci and his collaborators’ actions, besides the modalities of organization activated for realizing the initiative.

Introductory message to Radio Libera broadcasts, read by Danilo Dolci



Poor souls from Western Sicily are speaking, thanks to the new Radio of Resistance.



Sicilians, Italians, people across the world listen to me: a crime is being committed, absurd and of enormous gravity: we are letting an entire population dying.

The peoples from Belice, Jato and Carboj Valley, the peoples from Western Sicily do not want to die.

Sicilians, Italians, people across the world, inform your friends, your neighbors: listen to a poor soul who does not want to die, listen to the voice of people who are absurdly suffering.

Sicilians, Italians, people across the world, we cannot let them commit this crime: huts cannot last, you cannot live in huts, and man shall not live in huts alone. The Italian State has wasted billions in outdated huts, clustered confusedly: while the entire area might and should have been reconstructed with real houses, schools, streets and hospitals.

There are able hands, men who have the will to work, open minds capable of transforming the lagers of the area involved in the earthquake into a new city, a lively countryside provided with the necessary services to insure a new life.

People across the world should join our protest: Italy, the seventh most industrialized country in the world, is not capable of guaranteeing a solid roof and the chances of a better life to a part of its population.

Politicians: you are responsible of letting children, women, elders, an entire population extinguishing. Don’t you feel ashamed as you are not able to guarantee immediately houses, jobs, and a new economic structure to a population that is absurdly suffering? In a few months a new, living city might exist, if you wish so.

Employees: bureaucracy can kill us. Some poor souls start working every day at four. We need dams, reforestations, houses, schools, streets and we need them now.

This is the radio of New Resistance: we have the right to speak out and make us be listened, we have the duty to make us be listened and we ought to be listened.

The voice of those who suffer more and are in danger should be understood and considered immediately.



We are dying down here.

Despite all our great opportunities, our land is dying, left abandoned. People are forced to go away, leaving their own fields unploughed, they are condemned to be exploited somewhere else.



We are dying down here.

We are dying, because we are rotting away in chats and injustice. Parasites are floating, along with liars, schemers and charlatans: while poor people are extinguishing.



We are dying down here.

It is the culture of a people which is dying: a culture that might give its contribution to the world. We don’t want this culture to die: we don’t want to receive the culture of parasites, more or less mechanized. We want the local culture to develop, to open up, to build up day by day on the basis of its own experience.



We are dying down here.

Each person who is listening to this voice should call up his/her friends. People from western Sicily don’t want to die.



We appeal to ONU and to all the international organizations which love human life and fight for the pacific development of the world to force the Italian government to act.



The world cannot develop fully, if a part of it is constrained to desperation.



People of Western Sicily are speaking out through the radio of New Resistance.



Constitution of Italy, article 21:

“Anyone has the right to freely express their thoughts in speech, writing, or any other form of communication.

What does it mean “anyone”? Should people who work hard be excluded? Should people who suffer more be excluded?

At the present, in order to make a sense of a precise design as for the official national radio and television to be actualized, we need:

–          to obtain precise guarantees, so that different cultural and political opinions about democratic policies might be expressed through this tool, monopoly of the State.

–          Moreover they should push forward the concrete possibility of communication through precise means: to spread the voices of workers, of those who suffer and are in danger.

–          A precise achievement in this sense does not have just a local significance, but might produce chain reactions.



Friends, let’s gather in groups in factories, universities, schools, cities main squares, cultural centers, case del popolo, cooperatives, anywhere possible.

Who wishes to learn more about it, might ask us the documents.

Discuss the initiative.

Use journals to promote initiatives.



The voice of Sicily does not want to die.





This letter has been transmitted a few minutes ago to the Head of the Italian State, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior. Partinico, 25/03/1970


For all of us, the most important challenge of our times is to invent an authentic democratic broadcasting system in which anyone might participate. Many people say that this might be achieved only in small units, such as villages, or industries with a few hundred members. Somebody says that mass society, modern and technologically advanced, obstacles direct democracy due to massive numbers, as Radio, TVs and newspapers are used by a few to dominate many. It is true that a great number of people obstacles direct democracy and that mass communication is detained in the hands of the Few. It is our duty to reverse this system and put means of mass communication at people’s disposal and use this technology, develop it in order to overcome problems of direct democracy within modern society. Technology has turned the world into an electronic village, as McLuhan said; this village has to be a genuine expression, not manipulated, as to create a more human society.

Johan Galtung (Norway)

Every time that a catastrophe hits South, we say: for how much longer must people stay in huts? Is it possible – for a country such as Italy which heightens its “economic miracle” – to abandon homeless people? Are natural catastrophes fatal? It isn’t always like this. In many case they are foreseeable and it is a terrible guilt not to strive to prevent them. Even when people cannot do anything to avoid them, their consequences are different if a static and miserable situation exists, due to an economy that targets at restricted immediate gains, instead than using all the resources – economic, human and natural – for the common good. For this reason I want to stay awake in Partinico tonight, together with the Italian conscience for such a small part represented by the upper class, a sour privilege for the poor.

Italo Calvino


In the last few years, we have been feeling acutely the need to have our own radio or, better, to put a free radio at people’s disposal. It’s time to start such an initiative.

In order to establish a dialogue between us, I will sum up the initial considerations that led us to take this decision, and to give some directions afterwards.

One of our first working hypotheses was the following: it was necessary to act in a concrete and consistent way, by choosing some strategic point in homogeneous areas so as to crack the crust in a crucial point. In this way, we would obtain with a striking ease chaps on the entire surface.

Despite certain preconditions, this hypothesis was reputed valid in its economic features, (for instance, once they determined the construction of a dam in Partinico territory, from which the whole area from Castellammare to Montelepre would have profit). As for the structural aspects we have found out that despite being eased by the facility of a rupture in a piloting centre, an extensive work requires the production of new democratic structures and the will of overcoming those governed by nepotistic and Mafia system, thanks to a constant and penetrating presence that should have become capillary (what if in Alcamo or elsewhere people do not actively participate in the development of a democratic irrigation consortium: the same procedure won’t be extended automatically in a democratic venture in Partinico).

The majority of people living in this area are discontent, bitter: but they don’t know how to express this discontentment in a suitable way, likely to determine alternative directions towards growth.

They are not able to do it, mainly because:

They are not well informed about essential data, the information they have is fragmented and insufficient besides, in perspective, it comes from people who do not approve change if it meets the interest of the population (we already know who possess TV, radios, the most popular newspapers, schools)

They do not have enough time to meet up: the difficulties of associative life have been augmented by the experimented distrust diffused by the dominant nepotistic system (at times it detains Mafia features).

Therefore we need a means of communication that:

might reach everyone, by giving to people the opportunity of expressing themselves, their authentic culture and their needs (in contraposition with what happens today);

by heightening any occasion capable of fostering developments;

a tool that will enhance knowledge, along with a new and more open organization;

it will consent a hammering oppression on the organs of evil, which are not working such as public actors, the State and the old structures in general.

Choose and therefore express those contents in a revolutionary way;

At a more general level, we should say that, throughout history the right-duty to truth from being a moral exigency has become a right-duty in juridical terms, despite all its contradictions: in spite of all the obstacles, in fact, the right to information and to freedom of expression is determinant to the development of any democratic society.

It is up to us to conquer what has already been granted to us from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the constitution and the most advanced part of the International Jurisprudence, because we must use these rights.

There is no doubt that they are fundamental to the development of a new democratic society that aims at smashing the monopoly of information and expression in the hands of old structures of power.

In this sense, a punctual vindication has not only a local importance, as it manages to produce chain reactions. This propulsive chain reaction is generated both by the skills developed and the discovery of a important instrument.

We should add another more empirical consideration.

Even though we must keep in mind that personal and group relationships are unparalleled, we have to ask ourselves whether exists a means which might allow us to reach anybody and to spare:

–          time (which means fast communications);

–          people;

–          money.

It is evident: there is no other means amongst those at our disposal, more efficient than the radio. Actually, there are other suitable means, such as television, but they are not at hand:

Finally, we suggest another empirical consideration from a cultural point of view.

We work amongst individuals who do not use books and newspapers, as common means of communication. Consequently radio remains the only option available.

We know that people are used to listen to the radio, especially to learn local news, even though we aware that we cannot trust the source: people will be more likely to listen to their voices, the voice that expresses them and unbinds them. Amongst us there are people who have experienced directly the importance of Liberation Radios, so that we already know what they might represent for people.

Anyway, there may be objections: as radio is a transmission system and it doe not contemplate the possibility of a dialogue.


Despite this great objection, we think that this difficulty might be overcome at a cultural and organization level, for example:

by transmitting authentic forms of expression of the local culture;

by allowing people to debate about their own problems: people, round tables, consortia, cooperatives, trade unions and so on;

by allowing experts (agronomists, educators, urban planners, doctors and so on) to coordinate and verify figures, according to people’s needs;

by creating groups to discuss about broadcasts and transmitting critical overviews afterwards;

by promoting the encounter between local and non-local culture, at the highest level;

by taking care of allowing subaltern sectors of society (such as women, kids, peasants and fishermen) to express themselves;

by stimulating offices and power structures responsible for addresses, funds, projects and jobs.

For a social and economic laboratory such as Centro Studi ed Iniziative (the term laboratory does not aim at being too cold, but at heightening the necessity of an examination) it would be reductive to write journals and books, by not taking notice of the instruments that technology gives to us so as to reach the wishes of those who live in the area where we work. Otherwise it would mean to give up to these possibilities for mighty people who know how to exploit them.


It will be necessary to prepare cultural materials which are not related to present issues (tracks, tales, meetings, poetry and so on) so as to have quality reserves, and giving as less space as possible to improvisation. Even though we have the right to inform and express ourselves, we would prefer at first to avoid errors and transmit from a non-Italian ship.

With our broadcasts we aim at reaching Jato, Belice and Carboj valley, but also Palermo, Trapani, Marsala, Mazzara, Castelvetrano e Sciacca: Western Sicily.

Broadcasts will start: Easter 1970.

We would like to transmit two one-hour programs in the morning and at evening: composed of a cultural and a news part (the cultural part might also be repeated).

The wavelength will be communicated before the first program starts: so that focus groups might be created, giving the highest resonance to the initiative (not only at a local level).

The organizational and productive structure of programs has to be simple: Centro Studi ed Iniziative will be responsible of that with all its juridical organs; within the center we have a responsible for this specific initiative; many options are connected to this service offered by Centro Studi (such as, the info point on dams, directions and suggestions linked to cities-territory prepared for the zones struck by the earthquake, seminars and public meetings at Borgo, congresses and various contributions); it is run by our center in Trappeto, along with the editors’ networks – correspondents and local promoters.

Complex character of transmissions: educational on the basis of local experiences (we conceive learning as self-education, cultural self-management and democratic process).

We will organize an international seminar in 1970 about the complex dialectics between maieutic action and the assumption of cultural responsibilities and practices, , so as to gain the adequate directions, collaborations, supports.

We might then discern the difficulties to overcome by finding solutions related to:

–          technical and organizational issues;

–          technical and financial issues;

–          cultural, organizational issues;

–          political;

–          juridical;

We will therefore entrust Franco Alasia, Rosalba Martinetti, Michele Straniero, Ernesto Treccani and other jurist friends to discuss about it.