A Very Icelandic Protest - The Reykjavik Grapevine

A Very Icelandic Protest

A Very Icelandic Protest

Published August 6, 2004

One evening last summer a banner made out of a sheet was strung between two poles and draped against the pedestal of the statue of Jón Sigurðsson in front of the parliament house. On the sheet the words ‘Say No To Alcoa’ had been written and beneath it, a small group wired up the public address system set up a microphone on a stand. It was 5.55 pm and the demonstration was due to start at 6.00. It seemed for a while that the event would be a wash-out, but during the next ten minutes a small crowd of 150 materialised and huddled around the statue.
A policeman peddled up on his bicycle and pulled a notebook out of his pocket. As is the custom with all protests here, a letter had been sent earlier to the police stating that they would be holding this demonstration; the letter worded in such a way that the police were not put in a position where they were asked to agree or disagree with the meeting. The policeman looked around and peddled off, happy that there would be no disturbance. Meanwhile, Elísabet Jökulsdóttir addressed the meeting. She had just returned from an expedition to the site of the Kárahnjúkar dam where she and a group of protesters walked the area that was to be swamped when the dam was finally constructed and the lake flooded.
It was the end of the summer holiday and the meeting was designed to encourage continued protest against the dam and its attendant smelter. Although the talk was of not giving up and continuing the protest, that the government could be stopped even at this late stage, there was a sense of resignation in the air. A poet, the only male to speak, read a poem; a lament for the valleys, ravines and gorges that would soon be lost to the flood water. The square echoed his voice and two women wept. As quickly as it had gone up the banner came down, the wires were unplugged and the protestors returned to their homes. It was seven o’clock.

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