From Iceland — Democratic Antics

Democratic Antics

Published February 8, 2008

Democratic Antics
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Ah, to be young and virile! Full of raging idealism! Free from the arrogance of age!
What a rousing thing it is to see youthful energy exemplified in the passionate expression of conviction. What an uncomfortable circumstance when that passion clashes with the sober nature of those whose revolutionary spark has fatigued, or those who are obliged to repress it. Two points of interest on the City Council protests on January 24: One, I was there; Two, it was one of the most awkward experiences of my life.
Valiant, but undoubtedly awkward.
In any other country, where public outcry is more common, the protests would surely have played out very differently than they did here in Reykjavík. More like an indignant rally, perhaps, and less like an angry mob crashing a tea party. I refuse to accept the logic behind many recent criticisms of the event that seem to suggest that the nature of protest should be such that it does not disturb anyone. Vocal expressions of dissent can at times play just as effective and vital a part in a healthy democracy as any other, including written contributions to local media. I do, however, admit that the circumstances surrounding the protest may not have shed the best light on the intended assertions of many of those gathered to voice their discontent.
I know for a fact that the organisers repeatedly urged against personal attacks on behalf of the incoming Mayor, Ólafur F. Magnússon, since the main objections for most were against the undue process of law that the Independence Party and the F-List exercised when they took over City Council. The protest was certainly not formed around any intent more malicious than to demonstrate unrest when no immediate and effective alternative existed.
I also stand unmoved by criticism of the fact that the protest indeed had informal organisers, as that seems to me a basic and not unprincipled necessity for protest.
That being said, I was proud to have joined in the demonstration. The fact that we, as actively shouting protestors, were allowed not only inside the building, but into the meeting room itself, brings us to the heart of the criticism surrounding this momentous event. We were there to make noise and disrupt, and despite the sensitive nature of the meeting, we weren’t ushered out. Inevitably, the result was quite a few uncomfortable moments.
As a young voter of Reykjavík, however, I was dismayed by how much criticism of the event focused on the ostensibly young age of the protestors.
Like most involuntary distinctions in modern-day society, age is subject to an explicit double standard. It has long been a matter of fact that notwithstanding the calibre of their ideas or ideals, “young people” are continually liable to criticism for the mere circumstance of their age. Granted, babies are babies (assuming that the babies in question don’t possess sophisticated forms of logic,) but when it comes to talking about young adults, the prejudice becomes more frustrating.
The mantra that “youth is wasted on the young” effectively illustrates this popular point of view; that juvenescence is plagued by naiveté and foolishness, and the physical prowess of the young is thus squandered on their unfocused, inexperienced nature.
Clearly this theory is silly and completely useless. (And I don’t just say so because I am, in fact, young and sprightly.) We might argue, for example, that the ability to fly is wasted on airplanes, because they’re made of metal and plastic and thus don’t appreciate the talent of soaring as we humans might. Essentially the argument comes down to the fact that this is just the way things are. Nature demands that youth yields strength and vigour, time wields weariness, and that humans just can’t fly.
But what of youth as a quality of spirit, rather than body? What of the distinction between a youthful frame of mind, and of childish action?
When the new majority in city government was announced on January 21, and Ólafur F. Magnússon was asked for justification for what seemed a clearly egocentric political overthrow, he looked like a petulant child gripping his mayoral crown. “Because it’s mine!” was all he seemed to argue, “I wannit!”
An expensive suit and calm voice don’t certify responsibility or maturity. The loud, disruptive, “shenanigans” of those shouting inside City Hall on January 24 showed much more investment in the well-being of our city and city government than anything Ólafur F. Magnússon or Vilhjálmur Þ. Vilhjálmsson have had to say since this whole mess began.
The distinction that needs to be made here between right and wrong conduct shouldn’t be defined by arrogant assumptions of authority, but rather by more substantial virtues. In a democratic society, idealistic or not, merit ought not to be based on the size of your wallet, or the number of grey hairs on your head. The revolutionary glint, when it presents itself, shines just as brightly at any age.

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