Birgitta’s Jónsdóttir: We, the People, are the System

Birgitta’s Jónsdóttir: We, the People, are the System

Birgitta Jónsdóttir’s speech, ‘We, the People, are the System’, was delivered at the TEDx Reykjavik event held on 16 May 2015. Birgitta tells us why the small island country of Iceland needs a Pirate led government. She also explains why the whole world needs Iceland to be the social laboratory where Pirate Principles can be put into practice.

The ‘remixed’ text of Birgitta’s speech can be found in her blog or if you keep reading below.
The text of the blog has also been translated to Greek, FrenchBrazilian Portuguese, Russian, Italian and German.
A copy of the video with human edited subtitles in English and Spanish is available on  Vimeo.
More translations will follow.

The 21st century will be the century of the common people – the century of you, of US.
We live in remarkable, transformative times. We have the library of Alexandria at our fingertips; all the recorded knowledge of the world is being digitized and made available through the Internet.

Meanwhile, our democratic models are hollow and crumbling at an alarming rate as we move further into a new era of complexity, technology and interconnectivity.

The ideologies of the old school of politics, media, monetary systems, education, corporations, and all known structures are in a state of transformation. They are crumbling. Now is the time for fundamental change on all fronts, we have to seize this moment. Because this is THE moment.

Our states are built around systems that are outdated, created in simpler times and for smaller societies. Today, those systems no longer serve the people but are simply self-serving. The welfare state has been hollowed and is on the verge of collapse, often as a way to privatize it. We are running out of planet and our current systems are unable to do anything about it. Most of our democracies have become like a dictatorship with 100 talking-heads on the neck of a corporate body. Draconian ‘anti-terrorism’ laws and secrecy have somehow become the new norm. Modern democracies have become a freaky mix of Brave New World and: … 1984.

So, do you know what our digital persona is? It is made from content and meta data. Do you know what meta data and data retention is?
I mean do you understand it on a deep level.
Like you understand that you have a constitutional right to vote without anyone knowing who or what you voted for? Like you understand that lawyers and their clients have the right to have conversations in private? Like you understand that what happens between you and your doctor should remain private? Like the communication between a source and a journalist should remain private?

Data retention of your meta data basically means that you are butt naked in the system, your digital persona is for everyone who has enough power or capital to see, mock, poke at, sell, touch, manipulate and consume. Your digital persona has a digital shadow. It follows you everywhere you go and unlike your normal offline shadow it can be captured, changed, shared or sold.

If your walls are windows, would you draw the curtains when you sleep, have sex or go to the bathroom? Yes? Maybe?
In your digital house, you simply don’t have that choice. Encryption and legislation are the key to pull the curtains when you choose.

We have never been as connected as we are today, as enabled to share real-time stories of success and failure. Therefore, our learning curve is steeper than ever before. We are sharing, downloading, remixing and co-creating every day. Our digital person is expanding and our digital shadow ever growing. We are being manipulated every day into believing we are powerless, that there is nothing that can change these systems; but I am telling you; this is a lie.

You have the power to be a catalyst for change in our world. It has always been individuals who change our world, not some external power, but individual power for good or for evil. Do you want others to be the power in your life, or do you want to accept the responsibility of claiming your power and use it by being a part of co-creating your society?

This sense of social responsibility has somehow always been a part of my person, maybe because I was an outcast when I was a kid, the strange ugly duckling in my village that didn’t fit in anywhere. I was lucky, I learned very early on to be my personal alchemist and transform difficulty into strength. I have accepted that I am some sort of a human guinea pig when it comes to system failure. It was human error that led to, for example, suicides of my beloved father and my husband both of whom vanished into the abyss of the Icelandic landscape of water and ice. How the system dealt with it was system error.

I chose to use these crises as a transformative tool and through the death of my father, who vanished, never to be found, on Christmas eve 1987, just after I turned twenty, I learned to value life and not only that, I learned to love myself and get off the path of self-destruction but most importantly I learned the true meaning of compassion. When my late husband vanished a few years later, I learned the hard way how to cope in extreme crisis, uncertainty and the fear of not knowing what will happen next. This has served me well during crisis times, internally or externally.

I later learned that our collective systems express human behavior during times of crisis. It is a fact that our systems are made from human values. We made them, we can undo them. What might seem impossible now, might be quite possible tomorrow because we are experiencing very rapid changes on all fronts. So I encourage you to start to make the blueprint for the future you want to live in. Find that spark that will start a revolution in your heart.

Have you ever thought where the word Revolution comes from? I really like this word, it means change, it means evolving with love. How awesome is that? So why do you fear change, why are we so afraid of it? Everything is changing all the time in nature, yet we do everything in our power to make time still.

Why are you so afraid? Why are we so afraid?

Perhaps because we have made everything so complex and grand. Perhaps it’s time to return to more simple ways, more self sustainable ways. We can do that by learning from each other, by helping each other locally and globally and by remembering that we as individuals can change the world. Now is the time to step forward,take on that challenge and be the change maker. Don’t expect others to do it, your time has arrived, to make a difference!

I took this step a few years ago, when I was temporary unemployed, a single parent with the simple goal of figuring out how I as an individual could help create a sustainable future for the next generations, in times of great uncertainty after the financial crisis. I have admit that I have never dreamed of being a leader, a politician, a parliamentarian, a minister, let alone the role of a Prime minister. My little Pirate party is currently polling as by the far, the biggest party in Iceland. We are all very humbled and frankly quite surprised. And at times of these it is good to remind me about the circle of power, I am a big fan of the circle. I co-created the Pirate party power structure as a circle. The circle of community.

I made the following pledge to myself: while I am in service I have to remember to listen to my heart, to listen to my intuition and to be impeccable with my word. And finally I must not care at all if I loose that place of power because it was never mine in the first place.During the Job interview with the entire nation, when running for office, I made a promise to be the annoying mosquito in the tent, and that my friends, is a promise I have kept. Just ask my fellow parliamentarians 🙂 My main political objectives and vision took shape in a grassroots think-tank I was part of just after the financial meltdown in 2008, and during the work of the creation of the IMMI resolution, these objectives are thankfully at the heart of the Pirate Party core policy.

Firstly: To involve the public in reshaping Iceland’s legal framework, through direct democracy and through co-creation of a new constitution for and by the people of Iceland; I was aware that we needed a new foundation or like I call it, new hardware in order to be able to make a clean system install.

Secondly: To transform Iceland into a safe haven for freedom of information, expression and transparency, with a strong focus on digital privacy as a cornerstone of direct democracy. To create cutting edge 21st century legal framework.

I guess one could say that I am some sort of a party startup person, because I have co-created two parties from nothing in the last six and a half years, with some really amazing diverse people. Both parties got voted into parliament. Once I was elected six years ago, I went inside the system, straight to the heart of it, the legislative assembly, like a legal hacker, analyzing its strengths and weaknesses in order to find ways to improve the system.

I learned early on to follow my intuition as a poetician for it makes a lot more sense to me then the rivalry and manipulations of left or right ideology. The right and wrong ideology of the old world has simply outgrown itself. No longer do we have strong parliaments with a direct link between the general public and decision maker, perhaps we never did. We have so called professional politicians that are far removed from the reality most of us live in.
Most people have realized that left and right politics don’t have any useful role anymore. The ideology of it is outdated. To create political movements based on common agenda of pressing issues of basic human rights and democratic reform is so important right now.

In order for the common people like us to co-create our society we have to have the democratic tools to do so. People need to get into parliaments to change the laws, so we all can have the power that is rightfully ours, to impact our society and apply real pressure on those in power to work for us, not the elite.

One of the aims of both the Civic Movement and the Pirate Party has been to inspire ordinary people to take on political responsibilities by stepping forward and take a leap into the unknown and of course be the mosquito in the tent and open the windows.

Looking at different models for how to humanize and modernize how we run our societies, I have come to the conclusion that there is currently no one model that fits all and there never will be one size fits all. We need to experiment and study what works for each type of society, depending on the cultural backdrop.
There are some amazing direct democracy experiments being implemented with success all over the world. New types of citizen engagement platforms are being created and used to form policy and to facilitate direct democracy, such as the Pirate Party Liquid Feedback, D-Cent, Your Priorities, DemocracyOS and WeGov.

Technology enabling direct access to power is now become simple enough that citizens can start using it to form opinion and enforce political change in a genuine grassroots, bottom-up way. One of the most important task ahead is to help people become aware of that if they want to live in a real democracy they need to be part of it, to engage with it. That living in a democracy is work.

It is also vital that people start a discussion among their friends and families about what sort of future they want. If we, the citizens of Earth – do not have a clear vision of where we are heading, we will get nowhere. The 1% has a clear roadmap of where they are heading, which enables them to stay ahead of the rest of us.

Some of the most amazing innovations and creativity in the history of humankind have emerged in conditions of extreme stress, such as the New Deal. As human beings we have now reached a stage where we have to evolve to the next level, or we will fail to deliver a sustainable world to the next generation. Please talk about how you would like the future to be, make a vision, share your vision with others, start with the person sitting next to you.
If you need an inspiration then I find John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ to be a good road-map.

The poetician in me will end this with a wake up call!

I have seen signs
the end of the world
as we know it
has begun

Don’t panic
it might look terrifying
on the surface

Yet inside every
human being
a choice
to be a catalyst

Earth is calling
Sky is calling
Science is calling
Creation is calling:

Wake up, wake up now

Transform your heart into
a compassion machine

Now is the time
to yield to the call of growth
to the call of action

You are the change makers

Sleepers of all ages


wake up: NOW


Translations are being made of the talk and as soon as these are available they will be listed here. Please let us know about any translations you are already aware of.

If you would like to contribute a translation to your own language you can send it to us at and we will publish it.

This post will be regularly updated as new translations are available.