Meet Alessandra Cannizzo

Alessandra is 33 years old freelance project manager and consultant in migration studies, children’s rights and education. She is the co-founder of an NGO based in Palermo, a community centre, where she can put into practice her professional and academic experience in international cooperation. Alessandra is the grand daughter of a Tunisian couple that were asylum seekers during the World War II.

The revelatory moment

During her university studies, Alessandra discovered Asian studies, where she explored Buddhism, Confucianism. It was the university that gave her the opportunity to study and learn more about other societies and worlds, and about social cohesion. Apart from developing high academic skills, as she realized that Europe is very ethnocentric and it is progressively less tolerant, Alessandra became more firm in standing out for social justice.
She is very attached to her ideals and occasionally she can be very passionate about her values and beliefs. But she relies on her close friends and colleagues that would not let her become too radical in her advocating endeavors.

The first victory

Her first victory is similar to one of the major revelations of her activist life. After years of advocating using traditional communication channels and tools, she came to realize that the most effective way to raise awareness is to scale down the audience and to focus on direct interactions and discussions. And the community center that she co-founded is the perfect setting for addressing sensitive topics about migrants and minorities in a safe space.

The bumps in the road

Occasionally she feels down because she doesn’t feel that her family really understands and supports her work. Although she has been trying to outreach to a lot of people with her positive message, her family seems quite resistant and supports very different and conflicting ideas. But she realized that even though they are related, she has to have the same expectations as for anyone else and to deal with them as if they were people with radical ideas, the same as everyone else. And if she cannot persuade them, she should not take it as a personal defeat.

Extremism explained to a 5-year-old

Alessandra got to the point where she thinks that extremism should be explained in a similar manner both for children and adults. Abstract reasoning is not the winning ticket. But all these negative realities could be explained and redressed if we manage to get people with radical views in touch with their own emotions.
Alessandra argues that disrespect and violence are always emerging out of fear. This is why the direct and personal approach are more likely to succeed, because it is the only way to outreach the preexisting emotional conditions.

Confessions of a restless activist

She tries to do countering activities simply by doing her job well and by letting skeptical people approach her organization. She tries to be informative in an informal manner. Also because in this way it does not seem that she is trying to teach anything.

Some thoughts for undecided activists

Alessandra strongly believes that each and every one of us can contribute to a better society.
The idea of advocacy can be expanded, including any form of advocacy, where people can feel they have power. And she can bring evidence especially from the community center where she noticed dramatic changes of hearts and behaviours within people that seemed irreversibly stuck in their own prejudices and fears.

Adequate responses in uncomfortable situations

The road to the police station is paved with good intentions. Alessandra insists that there should be a balance between the emotional aspect and your rational side of activism.
Everyone should be aware and honest about their limits, including when it comes to serve a good cause. If a situation becomes too stressful or potentially harmful it is compulsory to avoid any incidents and to document the situation from a safe distance, either virtually or physically.

Challenge your inner activist

Find your own dimension; know your own limits, your strengths and weaknesses.
You need to tailor your strategy and your actions to your life. Try to set very realistic and feasible activities, that should not interfere excessively on your personal or professional life and you own comfort zone.