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Five Ways the U.S. Can Have an Icelandic Revolution
“We have to nationalize the banks. We have to get rid of the government. We need to have access to the internet seen as a human right. We need to have a new Constitution," said Birgitta Jonsdottir, founder of the Icelandic Pirate Party. Jonsdottir, a lifelong political activist and recently re-elected member of the Icelandic parliament was describing the four central demands of the new political revolution sweeping Iceland since the financial collapse. "We can create power and be the government and be the media. If Iceland can do it, you can do it."
The struggle in Iceland is ongoing, but the nation's people have achieved monumental results in a relatively short amount of time due to the nature of their movement building. They managed to arrest and jail the bankers who wrecked the economy. When the government privatized public banking institutions to their friends, essentially for free, and made the people pay for their bailouts, the people threw them out of office and refused to give the banks their money. And since Iceland only recently achieved independence from Denmark in 1944, their boilerplate constitution had never been updated. The movement in Iceland successfully used direct democracy to crowdsource a new constitution via Facebook and Twitter, and that crowdsourced constitution was widely supported by the people as the official model for a new constitution.
While Iceland's politicians have since ignored the will of the people, a budding new political force in Iceland is building a movement in parliament to change that. We can learn from Iceland and accomplish similar goals here.
1. Strive For Unity
Even though American and Icelandic cultures are different, the populism recently galvanized by Occupy can achieve the same goals that Iceland achieved if we organize around similar unifying principles. We have to first unite around class lines rather than fake ideological constructs. When we come across divisive issues like guns and abortion, we have to acknowledge that while we may have different opinions, we should instead find ways to agree on more unifying issues.
Example: Strive for unity and solidarity when coming across someone of different ideological leanings. If they say the government spends too much money, agree with them and then add that the U.S. spends way too much on maintaining an imperial military presence, and on an intrusive police and surveillance complex that only serves to violate our civil rights. If they bring up a divisive issue, tell them while you may have disagreeing opinions on that one issue, the other root causes of our problems should be addressed first and foremost. Remind them that it only serves those abusing their positions of power when the people are fighting one another instead of questioning their elected officials.
2. Turn a Few Central Demands into Goals
To achieve unity, we need to center around just a few key goals. In Iceland, the Pirate Party's demands were fourfold: nationalize the banks, take back the government, establish free speech and access to the internet as human rights, and a write new constitution. The demands should be similar here – we should nationalize the Fed, declare a constitutional convention, declare this government illegitimate and elect new representatives, and allow free access to information for everyone. These must be part of a new political platform that can unite the political left and right against the corporate and financial interests that are holding our country hostage.
Example: Keep it basic. For starters, let's agree on a constitutional convention to address the most pressing issues, like corporate special interests and banks owning our government. Let's agree on an end to the police state that has proven it's more concerned with violating civil liberties than preventing terrorism. Let's agree on an end to private banks controlling our money supply and economic policy. And surely we can agree that the big banking institutions should be broken up and banksters jailed for defrauding millions of people out of their homes and savings. Let's start there.
3. Be the Banks
Even at the local level, we can take power back from Wall Street by taking over city councils and state legislatures. Any local or state government can issue public bank charters, like North Dakota has been doing since the early 20th century. With enough initial capital invested by the community, a public bank can store all tax revenues from the government and start to make loans on their initial deposit base. And unlike Wall Street, these banks won't charge obscene interest rates on an entrepreneur trying to get a small business loan, a student applying for a college loan, or a homeowner trying to get a mortgage. The bank's profits are returned to the people to be used on schools, healthcare and infrastructure updates.
Example: The community of Vashon Island, Washington, created a public bank that merged with the Puget Sound Cooperative Community Credit Union, and now 16% of the population has invested $20 millionin the public bank. Bill Moyer, cofounder of the Vashon-based Backbone Campaign, who serves on the board of the new credit union, told me the community embraced it so much that they had even driven a JPMorgan Chase bank out of business several years ago, and those bank employees now work at the credit union.
4. Be the Government
Birgitta Jonsdottir, Noam Chomsky, and David Cobb of Move to Amend all identify themselves as pragmatic anarchists. They perceive anarchy as nonviolently questioning the legitimacy of any authority or hierarchy, and empowering people through direct democracy. But unlike hardline anarchists, they see electoral politics as a tool for social change in movement building. In Iceland, Jonsdottir's movement fought for a central goal of online freedom through grassroots organizing, recognizing inherent value in art, music and creativity, and having a unifying platform for their foray into electoral politics. In the last election, Iceland's Pirate Party got 5% of the vote and gained 3 seats in the 63-seat Icelandic Parliament.
Example: Here, we're already starting to finally hear revolutionary talk in the U.S. Senate. Don't take my word for it – watch any of the videos of Senator Elizabeth Warren grilling the government's bank regulators in committee hearings for failing at their jobs. She's gotten dumbfounded reactions from SEC and Treasury Dept. officials when asking them how HSBC, Europe's largest bank, didn't face criminal charges for laundering money for the incredibly violent Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico. She got Ben Bernanke to say the big banks should be broken up. And she introduced a bill that would make student loan interest rates drop to the same preferential interest rate that the criminal banks get. She may even seek the presidency.
"I was one of the first people to start saying Elizabeth Warren should run for president," Rolling Stone investigative journalist Matt Taibbi told me at the 2013 Public Banking Institute conference. "I don't think she can be bought out."
Taibbi later talked about his experience with open and transparent government – Bernie Sanders inviting him to come spend a month with him, while he was still a Vermont congressman, to see all of the process for what it was. Sanders has since become one of the most populist members of the U.S. Senate, speaking regularly about the growing economic inequality in the U.S., and one of the most outspoken defenders of Social Security.
"I pitched the story to my editor, and he was like, 'Oh, Bernie Sanders? He's the one who cares, right?'" Taibbi said.
5. Crowdsource a New Constitution
Birgitta Jonsdottir said she believed in Thomas Jefferson's words that it was necessary for every next generation to rise up and revolt, as power is destined to corrupt those who have it. She says this revolutionary mindset also applies to the constitution, because the needs and goals of each new generation are different from the last as the world and its people constantly adapt to new events and face new challenges. Iceland did this by organizing communities at local gathering spots like pubs and cafes. Then they accepted submissions for constitutional revisions via social media, which she says is one of the reasons the internet must remain completely free. The Pirate Party is determined to force Parliament to allow the people's new constitution to become law.
Example: The Move to Amend coalition already has nearly 300,000 supporters of their We the People constitutional amendment. It would add language to the constitution that says only people have constitutional rights, not corporations, and that money does not equal political speech. They now have roughly 160 local affiliates and are planning to canvass neighborhoods in the summer and fall.
"We hope to have half a million signatures by the end of the year," MTA spokesman David Cobb said. "People are ready to get their whole communities fired up about this stuff.
The group ArticleV.org is calling for a new constitutional convention. According to Article V of the U.S. Constitution, the people can convene to write a new constitution if two-thirds of the states have agreed to it. The group's attorneys have found that out of all the applications submitted, there are 42 to 45 states who have all filed legitimate applications. Only 38 states are necessary for an Article V convention to take place, so it should already be happening. Dan Marks of ArticleV.org has officially submitted those applications to congressional parliamentarians for a new constitutional convention to be officially recognized by Congress.
If we begin the process of re-drafting a new constitution via social media like Iceland did, we could even have a new set of values for the next generations to live by if an Article V convention can be triggered. We could even submit amendments Reddit-style, where submissions are upvoted and downvoted by everyone participating online, and the best ones with the widest approval are submitted as a basis for a new Constitution. Amendments could even be crowdsourced via an official Twitter hashtag, like this.
We're on the precipice of a revolution here. Everybody is pissed. We all know what we want. We have examples all over the world of solutions to implement. All it takes is a little organizing.