Birgitta Jónsdóttir’s “business” card reads Activist in Parliament. A poetician and pragmatic anarchist she’s quick to tell you that she has “no respect for authority.” Simply knowing that she is on the inside of the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy gives me hope that the rest of them may eventually get there.
As the spokesperson for Saving Iceland’s 2007 resistance camp against a hydroelectricity project to power aluminum smelters, Birgitta was told her involvement meant she would be marginalized in Iceland forever. With international activists arriving to help the few Icelanders standing up against the dam, the small island nation bore witness to its first acts of civil disobedience. “I was the protestor that seemed to pop into the mind of others that wanted to protest when the economy collapsed in 2008, they called me asking how to do it, wondering where to get megaphones and permits.” Not too many months later, Birgitta was elected to parliament on a platform of democratic reform and set to work creating a platform for drafting a new constitution by and for the nation based on the priorities of the people. In 2012 she founded Iceland’s Pirate Party.
“I encourage people to go inside the system. When my tiny group of parliamentarians first got in the people inside acted like we were temporarily occupying a space not meant for the “outsiders” coming inside straight from the street. Instead of spending months trying to get meetings with ministers, I could corner them in the cafeteria. I am inside as a hacker, analyzing the system, trying to build a new one.” With her purple pigtails, sparkling scrunchies and cascading petal earrings, Birgitta is a new system unto herself.
“This is what’s lacking in our climate change discussion is a collective vision. Where do we want to go? What kind of world do we want to create together? We must nurture our own little bubble and get to know one another. Tell your neighbor you are there for them.”
Long before Birgitta was a politician she was a poet, one of the very first to share her words on the internet. Among the first couple of women in Iceland to do web development, she fell in love with the internet as a tool for making the offline world better. “We are so connected now. We can organize protests worldwide simultaneously and that is so beautiful, so powerful.”
We laughed to share a favorite theme of our trip: the internet becoming real. We have connected with someone online only to have them materialize in a coffee shop in downtown Reykjavík twenty minutes later.. and then invite us to spend a fabulous five days in their home. Birgitta has done the same around the world, and indeed it was Twitter that brought us to be sitting on the deck of her fourth-floor office with a pride flag fluttering behind her and a view over the parliament to the hazy mountains before us.
“I was invited to Colombia for the biggest poetry festival in the world, and asked to join a small early morning ceremony with native people working to make the mountain happy again.” Birgitta is part Cherokee, and nods to the importance of recognizing both the “not-so-perfect” and “pretty damn cool” parts of how first people lived. “I visualized Earth in the future that morning, and saw her, my mama, as a living being. In my vision I saw her smiling from within. I understood then that this was my mission. As badly behaved as us kids are, she does not want us dead. We humans will long be around. It’s just important for us to have a vision for the future.”
As we returned to street level, giddy with hope for having met Birgitta, I affixed a Pirate Party badge, handpainted with sparkling nailpolish, to my backpack. A reminder to dream at sunrise every once in a while.