From Iceland — Kids Run the World: For Better or For Worse

Kids Run the World: For Better or For Worse

Published April 18, 2023

Kids Run the World: For Better or For Worse
Photo by
Kazuma Takigawa

“Ég treysti Yrsu R.” (“I trust Yrsa R.”) I sign a little hand-written waiver decorated with glitter, as I sit in a chair to get a haircut. My hairdresser is just over 10 years old, but that doesn’t make me even a little bit nervous. “What kind of haircut do you want? Is this your natural hair colour? What’s your favourite Christmas song?” Yrsa rhymes off her questions in rapid succession before her scissors touch my hair. She hands me a tiny mirror so I can follow her progress. She cuts a bit more than I wished for and feels uneasy. “Let me ask a more experienced hairdresser to take a look,” she rushes away. Benóný (12) takes the lead, makes a quick trim, and reassures me the hair looks even. It doesn’t, but I don’t intervene. The kids are in charge today. They hand me a hot chocolate, we laugh together — this might be the most stress-free haircut in my life. 

Adults, step aside

The organisation in charge of these haircuts is Krakkaveldi, or Kidarchy — a performance-based project, where kids take control. “It’s really fun,” shout 8-year olds Sóley and Margrét in unison. “We do fun things in Krakkaveldi. We do all the things that adults normally do.” The girls are too shy to speak English, and one of the two adults running the project, Salvör (Salka) Gullbrá Þórarinsdóttir, helps to translate.

Kidarchy came about as Salka’s graduation project at Listaháskóli Íslands. “I wanted to work with children as a collaborator, similarly to theatre,” Salka remembers. “I got the idea of what would happen if you had a political party with only children as members, and advertised for children that were opinionated. That’s how it started.”

The inception of Kidarchy took place in 2019. For four months, the group had a chance to meet regularly at Iðnó, before participating in the Reykjavik Dance Festival. 

It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but the kids wanted to continue meeting. “In the spring of 2019, there was a wave of protests — refugees were protesting against deportation. They got arrested for putting up a tent on Austurvöllur,” shares Salka. “The day after, we had a meeting with Kidarchy, and the kids said ‘They would never arrest us if we had a tent on Austurvöllur.’ We decided to try it.” This was the first protest Kidarchy participated in — with kids giving speeches and asking politicians not to deport refugees. 

“Then came Covid and I hit the wall with Kidarchy,” says Salka. “I’d been doing it mostly alone, and I felt like the performances were not being taken seriously.”

It was around this time that Salka’s friend Hrefna Lind Lárusdóttir joined the project, with an idea of creating Barnabarinn, a Baby Bar. Since 2021, they’ve been running Kidarchy as co-artistic directors.

Inked by kids

Working with kids as equal collaborators is the essence of Kidarchy. Kids come up with the ideas, execute them, even go to interviews. “We’re working with the fact that this is a constitutionally powerless group — they can’t vote and they don’t have a say in anything that affects them,” Salka explains. 

Hrefna’s idea to create the Baby Bar was inspired by her internship in an anarchist collective in Italy. She describes it as being “designed and ruled by the children,” and as an experiential piece where adults surrender themselves to the happenings inside. “You can get a drink from children who have been designing drinks, have a heart-to-heart conversation with them, get a haircut or a tattoo (yes, a real one — but supervised by a tattoo artist). And then, there is a relaxation room. Often we end with a cake fight,” she shares.

Before getting a haircut or a tattoo, you have to say that the kid is not responsible for the outcome and you won’t get angry regardless of the result. “You give away the power,” says Salka. 

The idea of children giving real tattoos sounds disturbing to me at first. Questions run through my mind: Who are the people that would agree to that? Were the kids nervous? Is it legal?

“We have to have some say in everything that is happening in our country.”

“I think it was as legal as getting a tattoo that your friend did at an afterparty. Because that’s kind of what it is,” Salka laughs. “It is an afterparty. You get a drink, you talk to people to get advice and then, it gets crazy.” 

“I was sceptical, but then I thought I have lots of tattoos done by drunk people at afterparties. I trust a sober 11-year-old a little bit better,” she admits, adding. “But of course, we both have worked with children a lot and would always think about their safety first.”

Welcome to Baby Town

Just as I’m getting used to the fact that children can be tattoo artists and hairdressers, Salka and Hrefna mention their latest project — Barnabærinn, or the Baby Town — a series of workshops in the countryside, where children can express their ideas on how to improve towns.

“We’ve visited different towns — Seyðisfjörður, Drangsnes, [a town in the] Faroe Islands, and we’re going to Húsavík in May,” Hrefna shares. “The idea is to have it accessible for everybody.”

“And to kind of take over because the kids want to run for election next time,” adds Salka.

I pause to process this information, and say: “What? How can you even do this?” 

“I mean, we will try,” Salka answers calmly. It was obviously the kids’ idea. “We might have somebody to stand in for them openly. We have to figure it out,” she says.

“The idea is to get nationwide support for Kidarchy,” Salka continues. “We’re going to introduce the concept all over the country, that means, we have allies everywhere.” The goal is to operate like a Renter’s Association, or like a group that’s speaking on behalf of its members. “It’s kind of like ‘nothing about us, without us,’” she says. 

What are some of the demands that kids have made to municipal authorities?

“[In Seyðisfjörður,] they wanted houses that were destroyed by the mudslide to be rebuilt,” Salka shares. “Then they wanted the ice cream shop to be open longer.”

“And a girl’s team in soccer,” Hrefna adds.

“All very graspable. All very clear. You can make these changes,” Salka admits. “It’s a demand from citizens that can be met.”

In many of the smaller towns, the kids wanted trampoline parks, similar to Reykjavík’s Rush. “In Drangsnes, they had a super nice idea of making the town a birthday town,” Hrefna shares. “With so many trampolines and such, it would be so much fun that people would drive to Drangsnes to throw their birthday party.”

The children have presented their demands to the town mayors, but the next steps are still a work in progress. Salka emphasises the importance of getting the demands in writing and following up on them.

Empowered youths

Engaging young people in politics is not a new idea; youth parliaments and kid mayor programs exist worldwide. Salka found inspiration from working with experiential artist Ant Hampton, the children’s literature of Roald Dahl and Astrid Lingred, various community theatre artists, and political performances like the Best Party, which ran for election in Reykjavík (and won!) in 2010. One book that particularly caught her attention is När Barnen Tog Makten (literary ‘When the Children Took the Power’), where kids take over from the nannies in the kindergarten.

“Empowerment is the word we use a lot,” says Salka. “But what we do is giving them tools and making them see that it’s possible, it’s not that difficult to reach the place that you want to go to. You need to do some work and prepare.” 

“​​Being like ‘I wish there was a girl’s soccer team,’ that’s politics,” says Salka. “You have to get funding to start a girl’s soccer team.” In Kidarchy they avoid being too serious and allow kids to approach things with ‘What would be cool to do?’ attitude. “You can have a revolution or a protest walk, this is stuff doesn’t have to be boring,” she says.

“Nothing felt like it was too crazy,” Salka contemplates for a moment when I ask if the children had ever wanted to do something that seemed impossible to implement. “We did end up saying no to doing the cake fight again,” she adds. “The Nordic House said we’re not allowed to do cake fights there again.”

“One idea was to kill Donald Trump. I was like ‘I don’t have any power to do that, but I can arrange for other stuff,’” Salka remembers. “Our role as artistic directors is mostly to take the ideas and try to use our tools to make them happen,” she refers to it as being an admin for the kids’ ideas.

Word to the caregivers

In an effort to better understand why children are protesting against serious issues, taking an interest in politics, and giving real tattoos to strangers, I talked to a few people who are responsible for taking care of them — their parents.

“I was kind of surprised they were actually giving real tattoos. But that’s the whole point from my perspective,” says Gauti, whose daughter Borghildur will turn 9 this summer. “If Salka and Hrefna were toning down their ideas, it wouldn’t be Kidarchy. The whole essence of the thing is that it’s their ideas unfiltered, put to work.”

Steinunn, whose son and step-son are also in Kidarchy, says: “They have very simple ideas on how to execute all these big things, which is very refreshing for us adults because we tend to complicate everything.”

Both Gauti and Steinunn agree that Kidarchy helped their kids become more confident and express themselves better. 

“It’s a fun challenge to give a speech in front of people. But also a confidence booster in the sense that the kids feel their ideas matter,” shares Gauti. “I’ve noticed some changes — Borghildur’s thinking more about socio-political issues, especially when there’s a project going on. She comes home and she’s thinking about who’s running for mayor and stuff like that.”

“Seeing my kid, it really gave him a lot of self-esteem,” says Steinunn. “He was very into it immediately because he had a huge voice in that group. I guess he wasn’t used to being in a world where his voice would have any say in anything.”

“Of course, they’re kids, and some ideas they have is to rain candy and such. But most of the times, it’s like, ‘Wow, they’re really thinking about that,’ like, the refugee or environmental issues,” she continues.

Gauti believes it’s good that Kidarchy’s schedule is project-based. “They may not meet for three-four months, and then they have something going on,” he says. “If it was every week, it would just become one more of those things. Kids get bored with stuff that you have to go to every week.” 

Finally, the kids

The opinions that matter most are, of course, those of the Kidarchy kids. The thing is, kids are extremely busy. Most of them have tonnes of extracurricular activities (one even sings in a band), you can’t meet with them in the morning (because school), and they always need a ride. When we finally meet, they’re way too excited about an upcoming ice-cream tasting, but they unanimously agree on one thing: Kidarchy is super fun.

“My aunt sent me an advertisement that there was this thing Krakkaveldi and I was very excited about it,” Yrsa (11) remembers. “We have a lot of opportunities that are really fun. It has a very special place in my heart.” Since joining in the spring of 2022, Yrsa has already participated in a number of projects. “My first thing in Krakkaveldi was the June 17, Icelandic National Day. I was tattooing real tattoos,” she pauses for me to grasp that they were indeed real tattoos. 

“I just did a tattoo on my aunt who told me about Krakkaveldi. She got hearts,” Yrsa anticipates my next question: “She doesn’t regret it.” Though giving tattoos was fun, Yrsa preferred cutting people’s hair. “I loved doing hair and makeup at the time,” she says. “On the summer course we talked to a tattoo artist, and there was a hairdresser on the spot who taught us to cut hair.” What is her favourite project so far, I ask. “Probably when I was cutting your hair. Christmas haircuts and this,” says Yrsa, referring to Krakkaveldi’s takeover of the Grapevine. “This is really big for me.” 

I’m curious if Yrsa is considering running for parliament with Barnabærinn next year. “I can do better than that,” she answers. “I would be good, but I have my own life and I can do so much better.” 

“Do you have any more questions?” Yrsa asks. She’s very busy and I let her prepare for an interview with Laufey. 

“I joined honestly because she used to babysit me all the time,” Brynja (12) points at Salka. “I’ve been here for four years. It’s a fun thing to do, to put the adults in their place.”

“I did a tattoo on someone,” she lights up with excitement. “I did three tattoos that day. One of them cried. It was her first tattoo. I drew a man with a flower head,” she pauses and adds, “Like a real tattoo.”

Magnús (14) turns to Brynja, his face terrified. “A real tattoo? Oh my god, I would never do that.” 

Unlike other kids I talked to, Eldlilja (15) was invited to join Kidarchy. Acting is her passion, and she’s been involved with the project since she was 10. 

Eldlilja shares why she takes part in Kidarchy. “I just feel I have a voice for every kid of my generation,” she says. “I have been putting up speeches in front of an audience, like in Austurvöllur. Everyone is listening to you and thinks you’re important, even though you’re just a kid. It’s amazing.”

“We say everything,” Eldlilja stresses. “We were talking about people that we are sending out of the country. I thought that was very important. In Austurvöllur, I saw Sigmundur Davíð [MP and former Prime Minister] and I was asking him questions about sending people away. He was pretty rude,” she shares. “He didn’t answer me. He thought it was a joke and he was walking so fast. I don’t know how but we took everything — we were filming at the right time, so we have a video,” she burst into laughter. 

Beyond playtime

Eldlilja is confident kids should be represented in the parliament. “We have to be part of this because it’s our future,” she says. “We have to have some say in everything that is happening in our country.” I’m curious about what are some of the issues that bother her personally and she doesn’t hesitate for a moment: “Reykjavíkurborg is making so many buildings, tearing down forests and every green spot in Reykjavík. Why do that? I think it’s very important to tell them to stop. I understand we have to build some houses and stuff, but not so close to each other,” she says.

Nína (12), who is working with Kidarchy for the first time, agrees that kids need to contribute to the conversation. “I definitely think we should get kids’ opinions because adults often make decisions about kids,” she says.

“We want people to respect us. We can be responsible.” 

When it comes to running for parliament, Nína isn’t so sure. “There are a lot of kids in my class that I just would not want to see in politics. So I think we should leave it for the adults. But, you know, the adults aren’t always good either,” she shrugs. 

“People often say, ‘Oh, you guys are so funny’ and don’t respect our rules,” says Brynja. “But we still want people to respect us. We can be responsible.” 

“So, you don’t feel respected as a kid?” I ask, feeling slightly surprised. At 12, I was busy building tree houses and blanket forts, and being respected by adults was the last thing on my mind.

“No,” she answers. 

“At one of our shows, there was a rule that the adults have to put their phones in a box,” Brynja shares. “And three of them refused. They were all kicked out. They tried to come back, but still refused to leave their phones.”

And suddenly, I get it. It’s not about killing Donald Trump (or harming anyone, per se), making it rain candy, or giving tattoos — in the end, these kids just want equal opportunities and freedom to express themselves as peers. They are hilariously fun, and even though Salka assured me that I’m past the age-limit to join Kidarchy, I have complete confidence that these kids will go far. We really don’t have to worry about them. Kids do run the world, and looking around the busy streets of Reykjavík crowded with mini-someones, you can decide for yourself whether it’s for better or for worse.

Krakkaveldi took over the April 2023 issue. Get the print issue to see more doodles and learn about what would happen if the kids were in charge.

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