At noon. Eating an overpriced, under-cooked slice at Pizza King, thinking of nothing in particular, while my friend gulped down his own while chatting away on a cell phone (and my, how hanging out with friends has become harder as well as easier since the advent of those things); bored and uninspired, the TV blaring in the corner caught my attention: It showed a live broadcast of a mass of indignant young people, booing and heckling at a City Hall podium where a five-minutes ago appointed official asked them to behave. Or else. The sound was turned down, but this seemed exciting enough.
So, off we went.
We missed most of the action, which was too bad. Screaming at politicians would have been nice for a change. Cops had been given the task of keeping someone’s peace and were maintaining a strict presence along with their billy clubs. The offending meeting had been adjourned indefinitely, until those pesky kids would leave the building.
What was all the fuss about? Grapevine’s editor does his best to explain everything in an intriguing piece elsewhere in this very magazine. Read that.
In the aftermath, media and blog-apes were predictable enough in detailing what went down: Those leaning to the left half-heartedly applauded the young folk for making a stand for democracy, those on the right expressed shock and outrage that anyone would willingly interrupt THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS. Especially a group of snotnosed kids that had no idea what they were talking about anyway.
What caught my attention about that spectacle, however, was the fact that those kids managed to harbour enough genuine faith in politics and politicians to actually be offended by them. That’s what stood out for me that day, and that’s what still perplexes me and gives me hope in equal measure.
For I expect nothing of any politician. I do not believe in them. In fact, I cannot remember a time after I turned eighteen when I actually expected an elected official to behave in any manner that wasn’t specifically aimed at promoting and preserving their own best interest. And I am not the sole proponent of this view; in fact, from what I can tell, this is a feeling indigenous to the whole Western hemisphere, shared by all but the most naïve of my generation.
I cannot remember an election in which my vote was cast for anyone but the least glaringly evil party or candidate on offer. Save for those elections in which I turned in blanks.
It is a sad and laughable fact that nobody really expects politicians to fulfil their pre-election promises once in office. It is equally sad and laughable that nobody really expects politicians to take responsibility for their actions, to step down when they’re caught with their hand lodged firmly in the proverbial cookie jar. It is sad and laughable that politicians are able to raise their salaries regularly while at the same time speak loudly of the need to keep inflation at bay, and it is sad and laughable that they can shamelessly appoint their friends and nephews to any and all available posts in the government system.
Politics is a sad and laughable game, where the players aren’t idealistic or even socially responsible citizens, so much as jaded rhetoric experts that have effectively mastered the art of never saying anything meaningful at all. Politics is sad and laughable.
I can remember the exact time when the seeds of this hopeless cynicism were planted in me (incidentally, it was at that very moment that I discovered there was such a thing as a teenage Progressive Party member):
At age eighteen, I participated in the “Parliament of Youth”, a PR stunt to celebrate the birthday of the European Council, where teenagers from around Iceland were invited to pretend they were MPs for a couple of days, working in councils, making speeches and holding debates. I had expected to gain a small insight into how Alþingi worked while getting to discuss things that mattered with my equally concerned-for-the-world young peers. And what an insight I got.
Turns out, I was the only one of those kids not enlisted in a political party (what self-respecting teenager wants to be part of a political party?). All the rest of ‘em were career politicians in the making, already mastering the lingo and rhetoric of their rotted idols and proudly displaying on their lapels party insignia marking their chosen ways to fame: an eagle, a shark and a pig.
Looking upon all those prematurely middleaged teenagers, sporting their pins and ambitions, I realised that this was all there was to politics. These were the people that would govern and represent me in the future; political experts in the making. During debates, they would quote their respective parties’ agendas, and that would be that. They weren’t interested in discussing the matters at hand, uncovering new truths or points of view.
They were interested in their suits and their careers and how this would look on their CVs. Not so much in solving the world’s problems as figuring out how they could benefit from them. Some of those people are already representing me in Parliament.
So if these kids, these people, can get genuinely angry at something a politician says or does, to the extent that they show up for some direct action, then I applaud them for it. I applaud them for believing that they can make a difference, and for trying to do just that. I hope they keep trying and, maybe, I will start trying too.