Danilo Dolci hunger strikes for irrigation project in Sicily, 1952

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The campaign lasted approximately 8 days
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
For the Sicilian government to give Trappeto emergency funds for an irrigation project

In 1952, Danilo Docli, an Italian activist, moved to Trappeto, a fishermen’s slum in Western Sicily because he wanted to move to the poorest place he had ever heard of. In October, nine months after his arrival, a child died of starvation in the impoverished town. Upon hearing the news, Dolci wrote to his friend Franco Alasia, who lived in Milan, that he was planning on fasting in protest of the poor conditions in Trappeto; Alasia immediately traveled down to Sicily to assist Dolci.

Dolci wrote a terse letter to the regional authorities demanding emergency funds for an irrigation project for Trappeto. In this letter he declared the terms of his hunger strike: he would not eat any food until the money to help the impoverished town arrived. He arranged with his friends that if he died they would take his place until the government responded to their demands.

Dolci fasted on the cot where the child had died and many Trappeto citizens visited him. The outraged citizens continually told him that they did not want him to die for them, but Dolci continued his strike.

Five days into his strike, a representative from the Sicilian government and a member of the Christian Democratic Party drove to Trappeto to urge him to stop his fast, but could not offer him assurances that the government would improve the town.

On the seventh night of the fast, Dolci’s pulse weakened and he suffered a stroke, which left his right arm and leg half-paralyzed. The doctor claimed that his heart was giving out, and that if he did not eat soon, he would surely die.

The next morning Franco Alasia rode his motorcycle to Palermo to plead with the officials. At first, Alasia could not convince the officials to care about Dolci and his cause. Once Alasia mentioned that several of Dolci’s poems had been published in a national poetry anthology they were more willing to negotiate with Dolci because they feared the publics’ critique for letting a published poet die.

Later that day, a monsignor, two Christian Democrats, a baroness, and the personal envoy of the Sicilian Regional President drove to Trappeto to offer Dolci and the citizens an offer to end his hunger strike. The government offered to help get the old and the young off of the streets, which they failed to follow through with. However, they also offered the town 1.5 million lire (about $3,000) immediately to help cover costs for irrigation, which the government did provide. Dolci conferred with the citizens, and since they were more than satisfied, he took the offer and ended his strike that afternoon.

In the subsequent two years, the authorities spent 100 million lire in relief for Trappeto. The government provided Trappeto with a pharmacy, paved streets and a sewerage system. Docli was regarded as a hero in the town and became known as “Gandhi of Sicily”.

Research Notes

Gandhi: his theory of nonviolence and the use of the hunger strike (1).

Future campaigns and hunger strikes by Danilo Dolci (2).

-Bess, Michael. Realism, Utopia, and the Mushroom Cloud: Four Activist Intellectuals and Their Strategies for Peace, 1945-1989 : Louise Weiss (France), Leo Szilard (USA), E.P. Thompson (England), Danilo Dolci (Italy). Chicago: University of Chicago, 1993. (p.156-186).

-Mangione, Jerre Gerlando. A Passion for Sicilians: the World around Danilo Dolci. New York: W. Morrow, 1968.(p.6-9)

-"'Nonviolence Works' Exhibition, Wrexham." UK Indymedia. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. <http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2011/01/471746.html>.

-Powers, Roger S., William B. Vogele, Christopher Kruegler, and Ronald M. McCarthy. "Dolci, Danilo" Protest, Power, and Change: an Encyclopedia of Nonviolent Action from ACT-UP to Women's Suffrage. New York: Garland Pub., 1997. (p.154-155).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Nicole Vanchieri 24/04/2011