As we’ve emphasised (as a lot of people don’t seem to know this), you don’t need to be a citizen to vote in municipal elections. By the same token, you don’t need to be a citizen to run, either. While being an immigrant does not necessarily mean you’re not a citizen, immigrants in Iceland of any legal status bring a fresh perspective to politics that locals simply don’t have.
In keeping with this, we contacted every single foreign-born candidate running for Reykjavík City Council this year and asked them the same three questions. Here’s Sabine Leskopf, running for the Social Democrats in the 5th seat.
1. What are you most hoping to accomplish, should you get into Reykjavík City Council? (If you are at the 24th seat or below, what are you hoping your candidacy will do for your party?)
Two things, really: I want to speak with an accent about so many different things, not just immigrant issues, until people stop noticing, until both Icelanders and immigrants, and particularly their children, have accepted that we are part of this society. That because we come with different views and attitudes, we are an asset, not a liability. Secondly, I will fight like hell against gender violence and for social justice, like I have done ever since I joined W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland in 2004.
2. Why do you believe it’s important for immigrants to take part in municipal elections?
Well, in Iceland one single vote counts so much more than in most of our home countries, that’s an incentive for one thing. But more than that, municipal elections are what really matters to us: the schools our children go to, having access to affordable housing and public transport that really works for us, even things like garbage collection or waste disposal—something we might not think about as long as everything is ok, but if it isn’t, we all know what a proper pain that is.
3. What is, in your opinion, the greatest challenge that immigrants in Reykjavík face when it comes to settling in the city and trying to make a life for themselves?
I think there is no one-size-fits-all answer for that. When we have newly arrived, it is hard for many just to cope, make sure we enjoy basic rights, get all necessary information, an okay job and a decent place to live in. But then, we want more, we want our children to thrive at school, we want to be listened to, we want to have access to all Reykjavík has to offer for those who were born and raised here without having to give up who we are. That can be tough.