Growing movement against Mafia extortion

palermo

Not long ago, 80 percent of shops in Palermo, Sicily were paying pizzo, or protection money, to the Mafia. But a growing movement is putting a serious dent in the pizzo racket. A group of activists is encouraging business to resist Mafia shakedowns, and it seems to be working. It's called Addiopizzo -- Italian for "Goodbye, protection money."

The turning point came when the owner of a rural pub decided not to pay pizzo and as a result started to lose fearful customers. Addiopizzo started organizing outings to his bar every Saturday night, both to show their support and to keep cash flowing his way. The villagers started returning to the pub, and the mob, faced with mass defiance, decided to leave the place alone.

This evolved into a formal strategy: a reverse boycott of businesses that publicly promised not to pay protection money. Addiopizzo assembled a list of 3,500 people who had agreed to patronize places that rejected pizzo. With that in hand, the group was able to convince several enterprises to take a no-pizzo pledge and to put up an orange sticker advertising their stance. (Addiopizzo then found itself developing an investigatory arm, to make sure the owners were keeping their promises.) With time, the lists of both the anti-pizzo companies and the anti-pizzo customers grew longer. When the mafia retaliated by burning down a warehouse belonging to a business that had taken the pledge, Addiopizzo organized public support for the victims: collecting funds for unemployed workers, holding demonstrations against the assault, and using Italy's anti-mafia compensation laws to secure a new warehouse from the government. By refusing to pay for protection, the company had acquired a different sort of protection.

Image: BJS

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