TURIN, Italy - Gas and hospital masks covered their faces as they approached the barricade and yelled at the police to let them through. Dozens rode toward the metal cordon as the police stood their ground and refused them entry.
This was it, I thought. Here, by Medals’ Plaza, the Italian protesters would have their moment. This was going to be the demonstration Italian security had spent months preparing for. After all, anarchists and anti-globalization protesters were infamous for their violent attacks at the 2001 WTO meeting in Genoa, just weeks ago they wrestled the Olympic torch away from its runner in Trento and intercepted its route five days in a row here in Turin.
The crowd looked tense as tourists glanced from the police to the protesters. The police shouted for the protesters to turn and go around the plaza, and I couldn’t believe what happened next: They did.
Calm and organized, they dismounted their bikes, walked them through the throng of people, under a long arcade, and got back on their bikes on the other side.
“We are the Urban Cyclists,” a clean-cut student said.
“We aren’t against the Olympics or the athletes, but we want to use the Games to bring attention to our cause,” Michele Noce said.
“The levels of pollution in Italy, especially in this city, are too high. We are promoting using bicycles instead of cars,” he said, noting the Netherlands as an example of a country where bikes are a primary mode of transportation.
Asked how many Urban Cyclists were taking part in the demonstration, he said sixty, while a fellow cyclist shouted out, “We are 50,000!”
Laughing, they posed for a photo and rode off.
Although content that neither Molotov cocktails nor tear gas were wielded in my vicinity, they left me wondering where the real anarchists had gone. Just past the halfway point in the Olympics, they appeared to have died out altogether. So, I decided to look for them.
As the rain turned to slush and into snow, I made my way through the city in search of the university said to be covered in inflammatory posters and banners.
After losing my way several times, I came upon the large, modern, concrete structure housing the humanities department — a.k.a. the alleged home of tens or hundreds of anarchists and anti-globalizationalists. A red banner hung limply twisted down its side and it bore a few graffiti marks. But the gates were shut and there was no sign of protest anywhere in sight.
“I don’t think they’re around today,” said Antonio Dipari, a sidewalk food vendor.
“They are just people against society, against smog, against speed, against the Olympics, against everything,” Dipari said.
“They protest until they go home for dinner. They are against cars until they’re sick and want to use one,” Saponaro Cosimo, the co-worker, said.