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How Iceland Changed the Way We Think About the World

We are pleased to highlight the post below, submitted by new NCDD member David Inman of Wilma’s Wish ProductionsBlueberry Soup is an extraordinary documentary about the constitutional change in Iceland following the financial crisis of 2008. This is a not-well-known-story of grassroots constitutionalism; an inspiration to the rest of the world. The film is a deeply touching account of an eclectic group of individuals reinventing democracy through the rewriting of the nation’s constitution. The film is being used to foster dialogue about citizen driven solutions.


Jaws dropped around the world when the Icelandic banking system collapsed in 2008. One of the biggest success stories of western industrialization, Iceland’s economy was seen as both stable and affluent. Then the three main privately owned banks crumbled, taking just about everyone in the small, 300,000 person population with them. Tears fell to the ground and hands flew to the air as a vibrant indignation beat through the streets of Reykjavik in protest against the hidden, faulted government regulation of the banking system. The Prime Minister was forced to resign, a new government stepped in, and the entire population was at risk of losing hope.

BlueberrySoupImage

Shortly thereafter, something incredible happened.

The population surged and moved mountains. Dialogue facilitated the propagation of a constitutional assembly. Dialogue between laymen, professionals, farmers, businessmen, theologians, truck drivers. Dialogue spanning the entire swath of societal positions. Conversations at home, in small groups, abroad, in loudly populated meeting halls. Dialogue.

With a population half the size of Seattle alone, Iceland’s dialogue probably doesn’t seem such a huge feat. Yet considering the range and application, the grandeur of what was happening became an astoundingly unique phenomenon. Together, Iceland’s population organized an assembly to draft a new constitution for their country. The old constitution, an adaptation of the Danish one that once governed Iceland as a colony, was adopted in the late 1940’s and proved incapable of adapting to the issues of current day society. With the banking collapse and the opaque operations of the old government, a new document which truly reflected the needs and cares of the people urgently weighed on the minds and hearts of all. Though facing skepticism and doubt, the assembly formed.

The documentary Blueberry Soup explains the feasibility of Iceland’s project a bit more. In a country where one in ten people are published authors, public arts and education is a passionate value, and in which the term “community” is in every sense of the word sincere, the incorporation of the population’s input was a natural step. But obstacles persisted. Disillusionment. Hopelessness. Frustration. Political opposition. Even anger over the attempt to fix anything fearfully based in concern that the assembly would add salt to the wound and make the population more dejected. Alongside these problems lay the entrenched reluctance of national news sources to report upon the assembly. Indeed, many members of the population didn’t even know what was happening until it was nearly done and over with.

Through dogmatic effort and constant reassurance from interested people around the world the assembly beat on and finished their draft within four and a half months. Tireless days spent hashing out ideas, examining comments from all over the country, and bringing diverse perspectives together in dialogue saw them to the end of the project. The only thing left to do in order for it to be ratified was pass it in a vote. Both the majority of the population as well as the parliament had to vote yes in order to institutionalize the new constitution. Tension was high. The population of Iceland voted ‘yes.’ The parliament voted ‘no.’ Never before seen by the world, the first binding social contract propagated through outreach, social media, and crowd sourcing failed to pass. And yet it was not a failure, not quite.

What astounded me upon watching the documentary for the first time and then later interviewing Eileen Jerrett, the director of Wilma’s Wish Productions, was the fact that, realistically, there was only a victory. Legitimized by its failure, the new constitution displayed the blaring faction between the Icelandic government and the population. People weren’t being listened to, commerce replaced citizenship, and the need for inter-professional dialogue became all the more pressing.

For us, the dialogue community both here and abroad, the effort of Iceland to draft a new constitution ought not go unnoticed. Demonstrating the vast, successful potential of social media to reach a broad audience and facilitate meaningful dialogue Iceland functions as a microcosmic example of what may successfully occur in the United Sates. Albeit privileged with a much smaller population that is rudimentarily grounded in civic involvement, Iceland’s efforts are not without potential for replication. But how might such efforts be reproduced? In what way can dialogue be made accessible to more people with varying levels of compatibility?

I think we can answer these questions. I know we can. In fact, let’s challenge ourselves as a national community. Let’s find the underlying principle which pushes us all into civic engagement and break apart barriers of profession, age, opinion, and region.

You can find the trailer to Blueberry Soup here: http://vimeo.com/ondemand/blueberrysoup.

NCDD Community
This post was submitted by a member of the NCDD community. NCDD members are leaders and future leaders in the fields of public engagement, conflict resolution, and community problem solving. You, too, can post to the NCDD blog by completing the Add-to-Blog form at www.ncdd.org/submit.

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