Dolci, Danilo

   An advocate of nonviolent resistance and a civil rights activist on behalf of some of Italy’s most deprived citizens, Danilo Dolci was born in Trieste, the son of a Sicilian father and a Slovenian mother. His entire adult life after 1952, however, was spent fighting on behalf of the peasant and fishing communities of western Sicily. His most famous tactic was the so-called strikes in reverse, in which he led hundreds of villagers to repair roads for which funds had been allocated by Parliamentbut not actually allotted. Such nonviolent methods led foreign journalists to call him “the Sicilian Gandhi,” a comparison that Dolci always rejected. By embarrassing the Italian state as well as the local notables, he made powerful enemies. In addition, his struggle to gain water rights that were controlled by the local mafia added to the precariousness of his position. Yet he continued to organize cooperatives, engage in hunger strikes, and agitate for irrigation projects and the dams that they entail. His popularity seemed to protect him from any reprisals by those whom he antagonized. In 1957, although not a communist, he was awarded the Lenin Peace prize, worth $30,000. The following year he was arrested and tried for unauthorized work done on roads near Partinico and sentenced to eight months in prison. In 1965 and in 1982, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize. In 1967, his allegations that leaders of the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC) were guilty of collusion with organized crime led to his conviction for libel and two additional years in prison.
   Dolci was a prolific author of political pamphlets and published several volumes of poetry. Long suffering from diabetes, he contracted pneumonia and in his last months was confined to a wheelchair. He died in a Sicilian hospital on 30 December 1997.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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