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Four Lessons from Iceland and Greece for Movements Fighting Austerity


Four Lessons from Iceland and Greece for Movements Fighting Austerity

George Lakey

After dining on cod on July 7, European leaders representing the economic elites went back to work figuring out how to run over the Greek majority in Europe’s first democracy. The serving of cod, presumably from Iceland, is ironic considering that it was the Icelanders who six years ago defied European investors — and by doing so saved their economy and bolstered their well-being. Movements for justice around the world have much to learn from keeping in mind both of these national dramas.


The stopping point for me is at the point of movement-building, to be warm and welcoming to members of the owning class, who courageously join the rest of us in putting the common good first. That kind of togetherness — solidarity — is the best alternative to nationalism.

Yep. Enjoyed your point about activists competing with other, too, but don’t have a clue as to how to join them under a broader umbrella. There are so many smaller “movements”–makes it harder to join in. We could really use a broad-based, big-umbrella, popular-message movement.


I find this mostly a weak analysis. While Iceland HAS served as a significant example of a successful rebel state, how much has that nation invested in militarism? In other words, unlike the U.S. it does not have a standing militia in the form of countless thousands of armed soldiers dressed in the uniforms of: highway patrol, sheriff’s departments, police departments, Homeland Security departments, FBI, CIA, DEA, marine patrol, and whatever other goons–answerable to authority figures–I left out.

Like too many white males who identify too strongly with Yang action and through it, an imagined sense of unlimited power, Mr. Lakey hardly takes the instruments of institutional power into account. It’s so much easier to fall back on the redundant, “blame the people” for their lack of jobs, lack of income, lack of agency within a totally corporate-controlled state down to the majority of its courts and how they rule.

This is particularly offensive:

“The U.S. majority up until now seems willing for the 1 percent to wreck our economy through its climate policies.”


While it’s true that mass mobilizations sometimes scare elites into changing laws, reforming rules, and spreading more benefits around… that is not always the case. And today’s rules have been covertly put into place by global corporations like Monsanto and B.P with legal impediments to citizens’ opposing what they intend to do. TPP and TIPP… ring any bells?

Has Mr. Lakey bothered to read Naomi Klein’s book, “The Shock Doctrine”? If so, he’d realize that shocks like war or the stock market crash are used to push through programs that during saner times could never make it past the radar. How many citizens had any say in whether the public or the big banks would be bailed out in 2007-2008?

With control of the media, elites hire PR firms that sell the idea that they are “saving the economy.” Never mentioned is: Saving it for whom? And it takes years for results to factor into the calculus… like NAFTA and the loss of jobs to less skilled economies like Mexico’s. By the time Piketty showed that all of the wealth (most of it falsely created via spreadsheets and magic number games, or bets on huge loan packages) generated since that crisis went to the 1%, the polices that created this outcome were firmly in place. Plus: This is a global problem.

When law and the pathways to legal redress are blocked (think U.S. conservative pro-business court), and major military muscle answers to corrupt govt. officials, and Big Money writes policy… where is it that The People can be called out for their alleged sins?

I vehemently oppose this argument; and have tied it–accurately, I think–to the memes that blame the Black kid for getting shot down, the young college girl’s attire for why she was raped, the Hispanic “illegal alien” for daring to come to the U.S. (after their own nation was raped by the results of NAFTA and CAFTA), the enemy combatant killed for “being there,” and so many other False Narratives.

UNTIL power is equitably distributed, courts respect established laws, media shares true and honest information, and representatives represent their constituents, this is not a matter of two sides. The People on one and Govt./Big Money on the other. There’s a lot more involved.

Many notice how this “2 sides” framing works to make Israel’s aggression commensurate to Palestine’s “fighting back.” It’s an obvious false frame… yet so are all the others that pretend that power is equitably distributed granting to “both” agencies, equal input and influence.

Feminists broke ground in dissolving these false frames by pointing out that the female employee who ends up sexually abused is not equivalent, in power, to the boss who exercises “such liberties.”

Power equations produce outcomes. Until these equations truly express the needs, wishes, and intentions of citizens, pushing the idea that citizens are the CAUSE of their own suffering is about as accurate as blaming slaves for slavery.

It’s a whole new playing field now, relative to the Civil Rights era. Weapons and surveillance have become far more pervasive and effective. The opposing reaction to this is that citizens in quite a few nations are also mobilizing. The battle is far from over and typically, when elites try to take it all (or take too much back), the blowback from citizens rises to exponentially effective levels.

This time, with elites pushing NATO to do daily bombing campaigns that destroy nations without any reasonable cause, it’s clear that those with power have ZERO respect for life and that includes the sustainability of this planet’s interlocking ecosystems. In other words, it’s impossible to predict how far they will go in using violent force to curb the inevitable blowback from the masses that their egregious policies (in most places, tightening the financial grip and giving less and less to workers for their daily needs) have courted.