We All Protest!

At the heart of downtown Reykjavík lies the small, sheltered Austurvöllur square, criss-crossed by walking paths and lined with lilac trees. In the middle of the square, facing the unassuming two-storey structure that houses Iceland’s parliament, is a statue of Jón Sigurðsson, leader of Iceland’s 19th century campaign for independence from Denmark. At a national meeting called by the Danish government in 1851, Jón led Icelandic representatives in opposing a new constitution which would limit Icelanders’ rights. “We all protest!” they famously called out. “Vér mótmælum allir!”

The statue of this celebrated Icelandic protester has since fittingly looked down upon many other activists who have occupied Austurvöllur, which has since become the gathering place for locals who want to speak out on any issue. While many are familiar with Iceland’s mass protests following the 2008 banking collapse, the country’s history of protest in the modern era is much longer and more complex, spurred by issues ranging from women’s liberation and nuclear disarmament to, most recently, action on climate change and asylum seekers’ rights.

Yet by many measures, Icelanders are among the happiest people on earth, and Iceland one of the best places to live. So, what is it that drives locals of a wealthy, peaceful country to protest in the streets? And have these protests, miniscule on a global scale, spurred any tangible changes?

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Icelandic Youth Take Part In Global Youth Climate Strike

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1580749235496{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]Climate activists marched from Hallgrímkirkja church to Austurvöllur square today to urge the Icelandic government to act on climate change. Inspired by Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg, Icelandic activists have been striking weekly since February 22 to demand immediate action on the part of the government to fight climate change.[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”https://www.icelandreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/skolaverkfall-flott.jpg” image_size=”large”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1552659462183{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]The demonstration took place at Austurvöllur earlier today, in front of Alþingi, the Icelandic Parliament.

“The government published an environmental plan for 2030 with the goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2040. While we support this plan, further action is needed,” states the event description. “We demand drastic action. Now. For coming generations. For safeguarding our climate.”

The ongoing protests are youth led, organised by the National Union for Icelandic Students (LÍS) and the Icelandic Upper Secondary Student Union (SÍF), among others. The strikes are inspired by Greta Thunberg whose school strikes for climate in Sweden have garnered widespread attention and led to youth protests in Belgium, Britain, the United States, Australia, and Germany.[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”https://www.icelandreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/skolaverfkall-geggju.jpg” image_size=”large”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1552672004998{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]Young protesters came out in force today. Ten-year-old Lana Sóley Magnúsdóttir, pictured in the yellow coat, with her friends at the demonstration. The girls, from left to right are, Matthildur Grétarsdóttir, Unnur Efemía Ragnarsdóttir, and Sóley Erla Arnarsdóttir. “I’m suffocating,” reads the sign, held by Unnur.

Data from Gallup shows that more Icelanders than ever before are interested in and concerned about environmental issues. In a recent survey, 62.6% of Icelanders reported having changed their behaviour in recent years to lessen their impact on the environment. Iceland Review previously reported on the matter.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_image src=”https://www.icelandreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/skolaverkfall-sst.jpg” image_size=”large”][/vc_column][/vc_row]