On a day in late winter in a valley in the Italian Alps, about a hundred people set off on a walk. Their path took them by steeply terraced vineyards, through a small village, and over the crest of a hill to where the riot police were waiting for them. The officers stood in small knots, behind a fence topped with razor wire, spread out across a patch of cleared land where the government plans to break ground on an €8.2 billion ($10.8 billion) project to connect Italy and France by high-speed rail. Soldiers clustered nearby. A camouflage-painted Lince—Italy’s answer to a Humvee—moved in a lazy patrol. A medic’s jeep squatted under a concrete overpass.
The protesters had come to this part of the Val di Susa to make sure the project never gets off the ground. As part of a two-decade battle to impede the construction of a new train tunnel through the Alps, they have at times walked the roads of the valley in thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands. The No TAV movement (named for the Italian initials for high-speed train) has invaded construction sites, blocked highways, and battled police. “Our objective is to let them know we’re here,” says Alberto Perino, the movement’s longtime leader. “And that we plan to keep on coming.”