Saturday 14th July, 2007

 
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Why does Iceland welcome Alcoa?

  • People of Chatham were able to get under the skin of a large corporation.
  • That’s a victory, David and Goliath style.

It’s not meant to be a strife

It’s not meant to be a struggle uphill

You’re trying too hard

Surrender

Give yourself in

You’re trying too hard

It’s warmer now: lean into it

Unfold in a generous way

Surrender

Surrender

—Undo, Björk

Oh, how it warmed the cockles of my heart when I met an Icelandic writer at Saving Iceland’s conference on Global Consequences of Heavy Industry and Large Dams last weekend. We reasoned about having an emotional investment in your country as well as an understanding of the social, chemical and economic science of destructive industries.

He said one of the Alcoans told him that it’s so much easier to work in Iceland than it was in Trinidad. Imagine, without the benefit of millions of dollars to do spin campaigns and flashy power point presentations, the people of Chatham were able to get under the skin of this corporation.

It’s a victory in a David and Goliath kind of way and it makes me certain that in the end the poor and the meek will inherit the earth—and hopefully before it’s been totally raped and every fecund piece of land and clear spring of water has been polluted.

Meanwhile, as I wrap myself in rather dramatic fashion fitting of a black yeti against the Arctic breezes that freeze me to my tropical core, my Icelandic bredrins tell me this is the hottest summer they’ve had so far. Not because I brought some sun in my back pocket, but because of that whole global warming thing that Dubya still insists isn’t really real.

We travelled north to meet with residents of a small community questioning the building of an Alcoa smelter in their bay. The activists there have an uphill struggle in a small town where supporters of the smelter sound like they could be Cepep workers. They think they will get more jobs and they think the price of the land will go up.

I wonder how they feel about arms. In a country like Iceland that has no national army, I wonder why when Alcoa is having their slick Power Point presentations they neglected to mention that 30 per cent of all the aluminium that’s produced goes to the arms industry?

This doesn’t apply to Trinidad where we militarise our schools, homes, fetes and think it’s totally normal to live under the gun. But I still wonder who Alutrint will be selling their aluminium to. I wonder how Trinidad Muslims feel about supporting an industry that ultimately will contribute to the murder of their brothers and sisters in Allah in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

In the past week I’ve seen such breathtaking beauty I sometimes wonder if I hallucinated it all. And not just of the landscape. The Saving Iceland protest camp is just about the best possible incentive one can get to be interested and involved.

Young people and old people and children and dogs and birds. There’s yoga in the morning and vegan food cooked by lovable green anarchists from Holland. And workshops about conflict resolution and a solar powered tent with books and information and videos.

The temptation to fetishise revolution is great. The temptation to get caught up in a world where everyone thinks like you or allows you the space to engage in free thought is great.

And if I wasn’t so cynical I’d say that this was Utopia. This would be my perfect bubble and I’d be a cartwheeling nut-eating bippy for the rest of my days. But the Utopia would be if we weren’t all here because of a common enemy. Tapped phones and slap-happy police are not the paranoid delusions of free thinkers who have high daily intakes of psychotropic plants. Neither are politicians who curse you and their blind, dumb followers who think it’s quite okay.

Those of us who have come from far away—whether my big mouthed sister from South Africa or the sweet natured G8 protestors from Denmark—have received a mixed reaction from the Icelanders. On the one hand there are people like the security guard at the big shopping mall where we went to do an anti-consumerism action who don’t like people who challenge status quo opinions.

On the other hand there are young people who happen to pass by, who listen and then express a great embarrassment about the fact that more Icelanders aren’t brave enough to let their voices be heard. Because at the end of the day, Iceland is a lot like Trinidad. We’re both small communities where going against popular opinion is frowned on; hell, it’s downright despised. No one wants to be the village virago, the boy who points out that the Emperor is naked. No one wants to take responsibility for how they feel and they certainly don’t want someone who has made a decision to show them up as being indecisive.

 

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