Published August 6, 2004
Leftists everywhere, and particularly here, have a thing for lost causes. They´ve been fighting for them all their lives. It seems they´re all on an eternal march from Keflavík to Reykjavík, protesting against the army base. Well, guess what? The base is still there.
It seems there have been more visible protests in the past couple of years than in the last couple of decades. Kárahnjúkar, the media law, the war in Iraq and the plight of the Palestinians are some of the most popular ones. It seems people are more concerned with what is happening in the world around them than they have been at any point since the 60s or early 70s. And yet things aren´t changing. The more people protest, the more things stay the same. What are we doing wrong? Why are we being ignored?
Because we let ourselves be. The average protestor goes out, sings a song or lights a candle, holds up a banner, and then goes home thinking he´s done a good day’s work. It´s not enough. A few weeks ago a group of protestors gathered outside Landsvirkjun, the corporation that is responsible for the Kárahnjúkar dam. The head of the company came out and listened to their complaints, the protestors went home in time for tea and the manager went back to work.
We need to stop thinking in terms of lost causes. We need to start thinking in terms of winning. How do we go about doing this? First of all, we need to pick a cause. The media law has been shelved for now. It is tempting to think that people´s protests had something to do with this, but it seems more likely divided interests between the political and financial elite pulled the plug.
Opposing the occupation of the Palestinian people is a very worthwhile cause. But let´s face it, we aren´t going to change that. Not by protesting, anyway. Sharon won´t listen. Neither will Arafat. I personally believe Iceland should cut all its ties with the terrorist state of Israel until they end the occupation of Gaza and the West bank. But even if the Prime Minister were to do this, it probably wouldn´t matter much anyway. If you really want to help, check out www.palestina.is and go down there.
Being anti-Sharon is a very safe opinion to have. So is being anti-Bush. Almost everyone around you will agree with you. It won´t affect your relationships or your career prospects the way having an opinion usually does in this country. It´s taking a stand on local issues that´s the challenge. As always, the trick is to think globally and act locally.
What can we do about issues right here in our backyard? It´s always too easy to present people with a fait accompli. I was in the UK when the bombing of Iraq started. Once the campaign was under way, the protesting petered out. The war there still goes on, but after Bush announced it was over, people haven´t been taking to the streets. It´s the same with Kárahnjúkavirkjun. When construction began, the protests stopped. But it´s not too late. It´s never too late. Pick a cause, and stick to it. It´s the only way you´ll win.
Icelanders are not ones to protest. In a history stretching back more than a thousand years, and including 700 years of foreign domination and famines that came like clockwork every 40 years, hardly anyone ever raised his voice. For Icelanders, complaining has a touch of unmanliness about it. “Real men don´t complain” seems to be the attitude. It follows from this that they rarely do anything to improve their conditions. But there are exceptions. In 1851, Iceland´s MPs raised their voices to the kings representatives and said: “We all protest.” It´s about time we took their lead.