Reykjavik has been my home for almost 22 years now, I have lost track of how much German or Icelandic I am by now, but I am definitely a Reykvikian, if that is even a word.
But for the most part I am a local, from my neighborhood, Laugardalur. This is my home, it’s where the bus stop I use is, the school and preschool my children went to, and it’s where the park is that I walk my dog in. And it’s the place where I first realized how much local politics matter. In 2006, the so-called Sundabraut motorway was proposed which would lead tens of thousands of cars, and particularly heavy traffic, right through my neighborhood.
As someone who has been an activist for women of foreign origin since 2004 here in Iceland, I had long noticed many parties being interested in having a foreign name on their list, but usually tucked safely away in the lower ranks.
But in 2014 I received an interesting offer, from a friend in Samfylkingin, the Social Democratic Party. I was asked to take a seat on the city council that offered real participation. At first, I didn’t dare participate in the primaries, but accepted a seat as deputy city councilor. Since then I have successfully gone through 2 primaries and received an incredible amount of support. Among the members of this party there was a unique will to have a voice that speaks with an accent. And representation does matter, our current list of candidates is as diverse as I have seen it. Candidates with diverse backgrounds occupy one in the top four candidates, three more in the top 20 and another 3 on the whole list. All of us have been actively involved in the grassroot activities of our party, contributing with our voices, experiences, and points of view to shaping of party politics in all spheres.
The sheer number of immigrants who have the right to vote in municipal elections has attracted attention, which is something that we should appreciate. Rightfully so, however, there is concern that too many of them are not aware of this right. I can confirm that this is indeed the case. Both in this and previous campaigns, Samfylkingin has put out information in more than 10 languages, we are visiting workplaces, walking door to door, phoning people, and chatting with people in shopping malls. Still, I meet and talk to many who are not aware of their rights. This is unfortunate and something that should be remedied, because healthy and prosperous societies thrive on participation of all of its inhabitants. This will not be fixed by only reacting right before elections. From my activist work I know how challenging it can be to reach out to people that may be too busy going about their everyday lives to have the luxury of time for politics or activism. But I also know how rewarding it is when it is a success.
We politicians need to build trust by our actions, as well as with having a clear vision on how we will deliver promises. Samfylkingin has led an immense increase on spending for the education of children with other mother tongues and just today, the city council passed a new equal pay policy addressing not only the gender wage gap but also the wage gap based on origin. But apart from issues concerning the immigrant status, Samfylkingin is also the party focusing on affordable housing offered by not-for-profit companies like Bjarg and a public transport system that will offer a real alternative to dependence on cars, just to name a choice of issues. This is your home, your vote! Find all the info you need in 10 languages on www.xsreykjavik.is.
Sabine Leskopf is a member of City council and holds place no. 4 for Samfylkingin in the upcoming elections.