“I am a hacker within the system,” Birgitta Jónsdóttir tells me. “I am analyzing it, trying to see how it works, in order to make an informed assessment if it is possible to change it from within.”
An Icelandic Parliamentarian with the Pirate Party, Birgitta co-produced the famous Wikileaks video, Collateral Murder, with Julian Assange in 2009 during her first term as an MP with The Movement party.
The video, which revealed graphic U.S. war crimes in Iraq, originated from Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning, who now faces 35 years in prison for this and other whistleblowing.
The Movement, formed out of the 2008 economic collapse, called for democratic reform beyond the left-right dichotomy and was featured along with Birgitta and other radical democratic ideas in the documentary Pots, Pans and other Solutions.
Later, in 2010, Birgitta pushed forward cutting edge legislation in Iceland that protected freedom of information, expression and speech. Working meanwhile as director of the ]International Modern Media Institute, Birgitta advocates systemic change through an acceleration of tools for direct democracy – guided by core values of transparency, accountability and privacy – that she defines as "rEvolution."
Her rEvolution is not a call for a swift uprising or revolution, because “usually in those sorts of crisis populists use the momentum and rise to power.”
In conversation with Occupy.com, Birgitta, who is also an artist and poet, explained her aims to engender a rEvolution from within. After five years of working from inside the system, Birgitta quipped, “If I was to write poetry in as bad code as law, I would never have had my poems published.”
The structure of political parties and the duration that politicians stay in one party are both crucial issues for Birgitta in her analysis of democracy’s failure. After her first experience in parliament as an MP for The Movement, she joined the Pirate Party and was elected in 2013.
“Political parties are like organized religion,” she said. “There are always people out there that join them to seek power.”
To counter this, she challenged people to think beyond hierarchy. “Perhaps we need to redefine leadership with a circle of power, rather than a pyramid,” she suggested.
Ultimately, Birgitta thinks the representative democratic system has failed. “The big problem we have with our democratic systems is that there is nothing democratic about [them]. It is an illusion,” she said.
Instead, she wants to continue advocating for direct democracy tools – and she picked out this direct democracy video on BitGov as an example.
Along with the Pirate Party, Birgitta has continued to champion these tools and advocate for digital freedoms. The party's current work includes stopping EU legislation on data retention; drafting a bill to grant whistleblower Edward Snowden political asylum; nominating Snowden and Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize, and working on legislation to prevent any Icelander for being imprisoned for any form of expression.
She also highlights how the party has elevated the debate in Iceland about decriminalizing drugs, inspired by Portugal’s example.
Birgitta considers the current economic and political system to be ethically bankrupt – demonstrated by the fact that most protests amount to people standing up against authorities who are lying to them.
Instead of the current system, she said, “We need to learn from the past, learn that if we take more than we give, we will end up with nothing but the devastation of our joint resources.”
Referring to one of her inspirations, the indigenous people of America, she added: “Our world is currently in total Koyannisqatsi (Hopi for ‘life out of balance’). We are all one, yet somehow most people are oblivious to that.”
She advocates people asking how their actions will affect the next seven generations – an idea explained in detail by Oren Lyons, a faith-keeper and chief from the Onondaga Nation. “Self sustainability is key," she said, "we have to stop moving resources around the planet that we can easily grow in our home turf.”
In tandem with political parties and the crisis of ethics, Birgitta blames the what she calls "marriage" between state and corporations as a core sickness of modern society. Since the 2008 crisis, she said, the marriage is "on the rocks."
“If it ends in divorce, it would be an incredible blessing for the entire eco-structure of this planet, for humans and the earth," she said. "It is our only hope.”
“We will then be able to use the next crisis to offer real alternatives that are not alien to the general public.”
Birgitta describes herself as a "pragmatic anarchist." Anarchism, though, is considered an alien concept to many – in the mainstream media, for example, it is used as a euphemism for brutal chaos – so I asked what anarchism meant to her.
“It means I am responsible and take a role in my community,” she responded, “that I want to be able to have as little overhead as possible and more collaboration with those around me, not being smothered in bureaucrats weaving regulations about common sense stuff.”
“Anarchism is close, oh so close, to old fashioned right wingers," she added. "It is the opposite of the big brother state. So us anarchists are the darlings today, for we had the vision to foresee that neo-conservatism is not the path, nor the nanny state, but we need the common sense of peoples’ empowerment.”
Addressing the reasons she thinks anarchism is frequently given a bad name, Birgitta said: “I understand that most people are not ready to take responsibility with direct democracy, co-creation and co-responsibility. But I want to be part of creating the legal tools for this, so if one day they choose to exercise their power, they can.”
Might there be some constraints, working as a parliamentarian while simultaneously hacking the system? Birgitta doesn't think so.
“I have been outside for so long as an activist that it is useful to have access to ministers and people who shape the laws and policy," she said. "I can plant seeds and tackle difficult issues at their core. I get a lot more attention now: I have a super loud megaphone and there is no door between me and those in power.”
Birgitta also wants to turn up the volume on her message of Big-E rEvolution.
“What is needed, more than ever, is to get people to understand that their apathy towards their communities is largely to blame," she continued, and “until we understand our own power, those that pull the strings of power can continue gathering the dwindling resources for their own gain.”
But she sees hope for real alternatives.
“We are at a unique time in history," she said as "critical mass is beginning to form around new ideas of democracy.”
To conclude, I asked Birgitta to try and describe a future society that embraces pragmatic anarchism, indigenous ideals – and goes down the path of rEvolution.
“My philosophy is very simple: small is beautiful. The lighter footprint we leave behind, the better, for now and the future," she said. "But nothing will ever change unless we understand that the rEvolution starts in our own hearts, in our daily actions and choices. Little stuff like growing your own food [and] removing borders all together. Throw away the weapons and start the process of learning from the past, forgiving and moving on.“