Crowd Funding Civilised Revolution | 500 Words
By Alastair Thompson
…with images of the 2009 Icelandic Revolution by Helgi Jóhann Hauksson
Sometimes life presents an opportunity that you feel you have to pursue. And such an occasion presented itself to me in the autumn of 2013.
Iceland's "Cutlery Revolutionary" Hordur Torfason had been conducting a speaking tour of New Zealand on the invitation of Scoop reader, Sian Clements. Scoop was supporting the tour with some free advertising as we often do with inspiring and enterprising social projects of this kind.
Iceland was the first nation to face financial ruin in the wake of the Great Financial Crisis's opening gambit. Thanks to Iceland's banks role as financial intermediaries for the city of London the Icelandic government and nation faced almost immediate financial ruin when the crisis began.
On October 11th 2008 Hordur, a well known veteran human-rights and social activist placed himself in front of Iceland's Parliament building and asked questions to passers by about the situation. He stood there every day for half an hour at noon for a week until he hired a truck and public address system and started holding regular weekly public meetings at 2pm each Saturday.
By January 2009, in the heart of Iceland's winter, the protest meetings had reached a crescendo. On January 20th Hordur summoned several thousand Icelanders - backed by an overwhelming majority of Icelanders who were concerned at the inaction of the government in the face of the crisis – to surround the Parliament and bang pots and pans. At the end of the week the Government resigned and shortly later elections were called.
Hordur's NZ tour was a big success with full houses for his two hour "When I Becomes We" story (for video see.. . Hordur Torfason, 21 March 2013 ) which outlines his career in political activism and concludes with a description of the events that led up to the "Cutlery Revolution".
Following his presentation I interviewed Hordur for Scoop( Part 1, Part 2) , and among other things asked him whether he had a biography planned or written, and also whether he had thought about turning his story of the Icelandic Revolution into a book in English. It seemed to me that he could only ever talk to a limited number of people in person, whereas a book could potentially reach a far larger audience with the important lessons that can be found in his life's experience.
Hordur responded by giving me a copy of his Icelandic language biography, which was published shortly before the revolutionary phase in his life began and said that yes he had been thinking about writing a book.
After a few more months touring the world Hordur got back to me over skype and said that if I was keen then he would be keen to come to New Zealand for the summer to do some work on a possible book.
Hordur arrived in Wellington in mid-December and we started work on the book in January in the form of a series of long-form interviews about the events of the revolution.
Fortunately Hordur had kept a diary during the most important period of the action and that helped guide him as he recalled the events which led up to the banging of pots and pans by thousands of Icelanders outside Iceland's Parliament Buildings in the teeth of Iceland's winter at the end of January 2009.
It is this part of the story which everybody is familiar with. But as Hordur told his story to me I realised that, while that part of the story was unquestionably full of drama, action and difficult decisions made in very difficult circumstances, in many ways the four months that preceded the dramatic events of January were equally important.
And for reasons which make for a fantastic story.
While Hordur is a social and human rights activist, he is first and foremost an artist, a singer, guitarist, poet, actor, director and dramatist. And while the movement that he founded and led, and which gave rise to the Cutlery Revolution, was political in its intentions, in its makeup and function it was as much production and performance oriented as politically focused.
This resonated for me, partly because I have seen similar formative events happen with other social change groups that Scoop regularly works with - a focus on professionalism and deliverables rather than on debate and dissent.
Hordur - The Hard One
Hordur's name was given to him by his father and in Icelandic it means "the hard one". He lives up to this name in his single-mindedness and determined spirit which I think were critically important in the success of the cutlery revolution.
And the thing is, politics - as we know all too well here in NZ thanks to recent events - is often a blood sport. People who care passionately about political outcomes may use no-holds-barred tactics to steer movements in the direction they consider vital, yet may achieve only paralysis. Sometimes internal dissent is about outcomes but more often it is about the tactics to employ, with splits riven between those willing to bend the truth or shock rather than persuade, and those resolute to retain their personal integrity, whatever the cost.
And this is very much where Hordur's spirit lies. His activism has always been, as he says, about "acting in the spirit of the society in which you wish to live." In other words you should not do anything in seeking your political objective which contradicts the values you are seeking to uphold. The ends never justify the means.
This of course is pretty standard moral philosophy but is at the heart of Hordur’s story.
Another aspect of Hordur's work is his simplicity and direct-ness. Part of this is I suspect a result of Icelandic culture, a people who more often than not tend to speak directly and simply - but also may come from his long years of experience of seeking social change by speaking truth to people about the simple and the human aspects of injustice, prejudice and the misuse of power.
There is never any need to overly complicate things or seek to make people feel foolish because they, for example, do not understand why the failure of collateralised debt obligations sold by banks in New York or London mean that they now have to pay twice as much interest on their mortgage.
Hordur doesn't seek to understand such things either.
The Icelandic protest movement began with him standing outside his Parliament and asking passers by two questions :
- Do you know what is going on?
- Do you know what we should do about it?
Which if you think about it are good questions to ask. And they are questions which apply with equal relevance to the questions about matters like, for example :
- Do you know what the NSA is doing?
- What does it mean for us in our country?
- And what should we do about it?
On Friday the 5th of September Hordur and I launched a Crowd-Funding Campaign via the Kickstarter funding platform to complete his book about the Cutlery Revolution. You can support the effort by >> CLICKING HERE <<.
We have called this publishing project Civilised Revolution because that is what this is all about. Achieving significant positive political change within a framework which does not alienate the general public, particularly during a time of great crisis.
When Hordur explained to me that the word for "Cutlery" in Icelandic is the same as the word for "Civilisation" I felt this could be a very nice hook to help people to understand what was so special about Hordur's revolution.
Revolution as a general idea has quite rightly earned itself a profoundly negative public perception. Revolutions tend to be uncivil in their conduct and to lead to uncivil outcomes for everybody. But what happened in Iceland was very different from the usual chaos leading up to a dramatic display of public anger - in this case public anger in the face of a catastrophically worsening, widespread economic crisis.
By the time Hordur made the call to surround Iceland's Parliament and bang pots and pans till the Government resigned, the vast majority of Iceland's public were generally behind the demonstration outside their Parliament. They wanted both the Government (guided and financed by bankers) which had gotten Iceland into such a mess, and the Board of the National Bank, to resign.
And so this revolution was unlike so many others. It was civilised.
How You Can Help
If you are interested in reading the full story of how this unusually successful experience in political activism was pulled off then please support our publishing project and encourage your friends to do so also. Please help us spread the word. We have 35 days left and many pledgers to reach - the way Kickstarter works unless we get to our target sum we will get nothing.
You can do so by going to our KickStarter page by >> CLICKING HERE << . The $39,000 which we are seeking to raise will be enough for us to complete the book and publish a first edition of 1000 copies.
You can also help this project by helping spread the word via online Social Media. Our Facebook page is HERE…
…and our Twitter account is HERE.
And if you have a blog (or know a blogger) please blog about this project (or ask your blogger friend to do so).
And finally a clarifying comment. Although this project fits with the ethos of www.scoop.co.nz where I am editor and publisher, and is undertaken within Scoop’s editorial guidelines, it is a personal project for me. I will take some time out to complete the book this coming Southern summer.
- Alastair Thompson, 500 Words, Sunday, 7