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Antonella Bundu: The first black woman to run for mayor of a major Italian city

Twitter, Antonella Bundu | Screengrab from Bundu's Twitter account, posted as a anti-fascist protest on May 10 2019.

Antonella Bundu is running to become the next mayor of Florence. If she succeeds, she will be the first woman and the first black person to have achieved this position.

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The 49-year-old Florentine politician certainly pulls no punches. “Matteo Salvini has almost institutionalised racism and discrimination,” said Antonella Bundu speaking with Al Jazeera

Meet Antonella Bundu - the first black woman to run for mayor in Italy's Florence. pic.twitter.com/wfO0HfFO6Z

— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) May 21, 2019 ">. “But what are the real emergencies in Florence today? The right to housing and also violence against women.”

Bundu is the daughter of a Florentine mother and a Sierra Leonean father. She is the first black female candidate for mayor of a major Italian city. And the vote will be held at the same time as Italy votes in the European elections on Sunday March 26th.

Providing an alternative to Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Salvini and his anti-immigration policies is at the heart of Bundu’s campaign. “I find it shameful that there is someone who is supposed to represent a democratic country who tramples on laws and on the constitution,” said Bundu.

There are nine candidates in the race for Florence’s next mayor, but Bundu is considered one of the frontrunners. She was chosen as the candidate by a coalition of anti-fascist leftist parties including Potere al Popolo (Power to the People) and Rifondazione Comunista (Communist Refoundation).

One of her main rivals in the mayoral race is Ubaldo Bocci, who is running under the right-wing League and Brothers of Italy parties. If Bundu makes it through to the second round, she is expected to do very well.

Racially-motivated attacks

Bundu enters the race at a time when the number of racially motivated attacks in Italy is exploding. They tripled between 2017 and 2018, and they have continued to steeply rise since Salvini took office as Minster for the Interior at the start of 2018. Salvini has closed Italian ports to the boats that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean and he continues to actively work against immigration.

“Politics is riding a wave of hatred that gets more threatening and unruly every day,” said Bundu to The Guardian. “I too have been a victim of Italian racial hatred. When I opened my door to a delivery man, he asked me if the owner was home, thinking that I was the cleaning lady. While taking a stroll with my daughter, a woman once called me a ‘dirty nigger’. I sued her, and she was found guilty of racial hatred. What’s worse is that people who insult or beat blacks do so without fear of reprisal, legitimised by the pronouncements of political leaders and a subsequent perception of impunity.”

Oxfam campaigner and DJ

Bundu’s Sierra Leonean father went to Italy to study architecture and it was there he met her mother, a teacher from Florence. They moved to Sierra Leone after Bundu was born and they later moved to Liverpool, where Bundu spent much of her childhood. And it was in Liverpool that her activism first took root as she engaged in many campaigns with the charity organisation Oxfam.

A civil rights activist and a former DJ, Bundu has never been a member of a political party. "My commitment began in the working-class neighbourhoods of Liverpool at the end of the 1980s, where I lived with my family and there where riots due to the economic crisis and racial discrimination. There I began to actively participate in the political struggle," she explains.

At the heart of her manifesto is "the struggle for an inclusive multicultural Italy, for the rights of women and migrants.

“Gender violence is the only crime that is increasing in Italy. But we – well, the current government with [Senator Simone] Pillon and the Minister for Family [Lorenzo] Fontana - are currently making policies against everything we had already established in favour of women. I think that it is very important that, in addition to being black, I am also a woman and a left-wing activistist.”

‘Housing emergency’

If she is elected mayor in Sunday’s poll, the first issue she will tackle is housing. She believes that the current government’s attempt to drive poverty outside of the city centre is not the way to solve it. The homeless may be out of sight - and out of many politicians’ minds - but they are still a very real issue.

“I want to initiate urgent policies to deal with the housing emergency,” said Bundu in an interview in Firenze Today. “I would ask the prefect to suspend evictions for a year. I would launch an extraordinary programme to buy empty apartments at construction prices and block the sale of public property assets, in favor of policies of recovery and reuse for housing and social purposes.

She aims to set up more day centres in the city centre to give the homeless a sense of place and, most importantly, an address, so that they can access rights and services. This will mean that they can get in the system and have real opportunities to achieve housing and unemployment income and to possibly return to work.

Build a Florence for everyone

Crucially, Bundu does not believe that there is a ‘security emergency’ in Italy, as claimed by Salvini and his party.

“The issue of security is often used to propagate fear and it creates a false problem. In reality, the majority of crimes have been on the decrease for about 40 years.”

Asked what her five-year plan is if she is elected, Bundu envisages a very different and progressive Florence.

“Florence is the city that received the gold medal for its resistance against the fascists. The time has come to remind people of that.

“Florentines should choose me if they want a city that is for everyone. Not only because of a principle of human solidarity, but also because we must start with the needs of those who are worse off to make our beautiful city a city for all.”

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