When the Icelanders heard that their leader socked away money in an off-shore account in the Virgin Islands, 10,000 of them packed the Parliament Square on April 4 in Reykevik to demand his resignation. That’s partly because Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson had been urging his people for years to show their faith in their country by keeping their money at home. The surge into the streets also represented the Icelanders’ view that they need to use nonviolent direct action to maximize their power.
If Americans were to protest in the same proportion as Icelanders have done, we would put 10 million of ourselves on the streets at one time. What might become possible?
A few years ago, I drank coffee on Parliament Square with Hørdur Torfason — the leader of the Icelanders’ uprising of 2008-09 — interviewing him for my forthcoming book, “Viking Economics.” He suggested we meet at his favorite cafe, which faces where the action took place. The nonviolent campaign he led drove out not only the prime minister but the government itself, and put bankers in jail.
Back then the campaign was called “the pots and pans revolution” because people escalated by banging on kitchen utensils so loudly that parliamentarians couldn’t hear each other inside the building. That action was not a one-off protest; it was part of a sustained campaign. Hørdur gave me a blow-by-blow account, which I relay in the book.