Many thousands gathered in Milan over the weekend to protest against what they perceive to be ‘discriminatory' and ‘racist' policies of the Italian government.
Under the banner of "People First," rally-goers packed the streets of Milan, Italy's financial capital, while rehashing old and new slogans regarding social issues such as immigration and multiculturalism.
"We are here to show that acceptance is a very beautiful thing and that diversity is an enrichment," said one woman. When asked about why she joined the rally, one woman responded that she was "against this atmosphere of racism and because our families chose to be of many colors and differences."
Estimates as to participation range from a few tens of thousands to 200,000 marchers, some of them with flags, banners, drums and other instruments, which gave parts of the rally a party-like atmosphere.
Pierfrancesco Majorino, Milan's official for immigration policy and an avid anti-Matteo Salvini activist was the one who tweeted about the 200,000 claim. "Salvini, count us" he bragged online. In fact, "Prima le Persone" (People First) is a reference to one of Salvini's sayings, "Prima gli Italiani" (Italians First).
Salvini, Italy's interior minister and popular anti-immigration figurehead, has been the man largely responsible behind Rome's swift blocking of ships carrying many illegal immigrants. The self-proclaimed humanitarian ships however were caught ferrying people directly from the coasts of Libya, North Africa, prompting the then Italian government to take legal action against the non-governmental organizations and giving Salvini the mandate he needed to curb illegal immigration.
The interior minister took a non-apologetic approach when it came to implementing policies such as the mass deportation of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants or the prosecution of NGOs and Italian officials who were accused of breaking immigration-related laws, such as city mayors.
The city's mayor, Guiseppe Sala, also stands against Salvini, and said that the protest was a "powerful political testimonial that Italy is not just the country that it is currently being described as."
Salvini and his League party entered into government in coalition with the Five Star Movement in 2018, and even though many in the government promote policies such as his, only he has managed to become a popular anti-immigration figurehead. Other Italian government officials, such as Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who has been described as a novice at the helm, have not steered as much controversy as Salvini.