On To Victory: Alene Moris

alene

You could be forgiven if, seeing Alene Moris for the first time, especially at something like the Icelandic National League annual conference, if you dismissed her as another little old lady who spent her life making ponokokur. We’re all entitled to mistakes. Even doozies like this one.

Alene Moris was the hit of the conference. The title to her talk, “Women in Iceland are Unusual and Happy” seemed motherly. Wrong again.

Alene Moris had the crowd so revved up by the end of her talk that I thought the audience was going to jump out of their seats and march through Seattle in support of women’s rights. What a speaker!

The theme of the conference was “There’s No Place Like Heima (home)”. Could have been a maudlin look back at earlier times. It looked back all right but it was anything but maudlin.

When she said that she babysat Tommy Douglas’s children when she was young, Canadian listeners knew this wasn’t going to be a mom in the kitchen making apple pie speech. The reference, I expect, went over the heads of the American part of the audience.

“Home”, she started off saying, is loaded with mixed emotions. And, going back to the settlement of Iceland, she didn’t rah rah those Viking men but rather looked at the fact that the majority of women were Irish/Scots slaves. She pointed out they were taken by force from their families and communities, must have been incredibly lonely, had no choice about having sex, and were pregnant and had to raise children without the normal family and community support. Their masters, maybe husbands, went away for long periods of time and the women had to survive and see that their children survived.

Throughout her speech, she compared women’s situation in Iceland, historically, and I the present, with the situation of women in the United States.

In Iceland there is a much better safety net and when you say safety net, you’re talking about women. It’s women and children who dis-proportionality need a safety net. Women often earn minimum wage. There has been an orchestrated attack on women’s freedom and rights. A major problem is that women in the USA don’t stick together. In Iceland a one day strike brought widespread support. IN the 1975 million women march, only one woman out of 150 came out.

Two years ago, Iceland was chosen as the best place for women. In the USA there is a large pay difference. There is widespread domestic violence. IN 12 years, 12,000 women were killed by male partners.
In Iceland women seldom respond with anger but with a pragmatic insistence that there be justice for everyone.

A striking image she presented was that women don’t want half of a bad pie. They want a pie that is worth sharing.

She praised Iceland’s response to the kreppa and said that the USA needs to find the courage to do the same.

According to her, women need to be in positions of power because they value independent thinking instead of group thinking. They want to treat all people well. Most women think in terms of a circle and community.

She inspired many with her speech and there was much more to it than I can include. Her mother was born and raised in Mountain, ND. Her father was a Norwegian from Minnesota. Alene majored in music and married a Lutheran minister. Now of these things, outside of long conversations with Tommy Douglas about universal health care, would seem to be the makings of someone dedicated to social justice.

She and her husband went to Borneo in 1965-69. She sent for three books and reading them created an epiphany for her. She learned that all the war decisions about Vietnam had been made by men. There was no woman there to ask why do we need to win? Why are we in Asia?

It’s not, she says, that women are more virtuous than men. It is just that they see things differently. Think back to those first comments about Vikings and the women they kidnapped to take to Iceland. Their view of what was happening had to be radically different.

She said something that for me was profound. She heard it at the Women As A Resource For A Changing World. The speaker said “Power comes to those who know and know they know.” She then gave a historical list of all those who those who know and know they know. Except, of course, that doesn’t mean they are right. But they do get to impose their will on the rest of society.

Toward the end, she said “Icelandic women show up.” American women, don’t.

Her speech was so packed with information that even though I took notes as quickly as possible, I could only get down a small part of what she shared with the audience. Anyone who wants to hear her whole speech, and I would hope that every woman who hears about it, will log in and listen, can go to the Icelandic National League website. If her speech is not already up, it will be, soon.

INL Convention Seattle: Day 3

I’ve never been to an INL convention like it. It’s been all over the place re types of speakers and topics. I think people are discombobulated in a good way. They’ve had their conceptions un-concepted, they’ve heard and seen things that have left them puzzled, curious, excited. It is hard to capture the excitement that has been generated. I am so grateful, happy, that I decided to come to this convention. I’m not a great enthusiast but I’ve found myself being amazed, amused, bewildered.

David Johnson is the Co-Chair of this Convention. He has been everywhere, checking on everything, making sure that we all stay on time.

David is Mormon and he introduced the first speaker, Prof. Fred E. Woods. Fred is highly personable, an experienced teacher and public speaker. He presented a slide show with commentary. Some of his slides were pictures of Icelanders who went to Utah in the early years. Other slides were of documents from that time, often letters, that have been translated into English.
I have read quite a bit about the Icelandic Mormons but Fred’s lecture made me aware of how much more material there is that I did not know about. I, and I expect, many others, will be going online to read the work that has been translated.

He is working with the Icelandic scholar Kári Bjarnason, head of the Vestmannæyjar Folk Museum. Together, they are collecting and publishing Icelandic materials which are in Utah. You can read much of this material on the “Mormon Migration“ website hosted by BYU.

We went from this rather conservative individual who describes happy things as “sweet“ to Donald Gislason. Now, I have to confess that I‘m a great fan of Donald. That‘s because when I was editor of Logberg-Heimskingla, Donald provided marvelous interviews about the music and cultural scene in Iceland. I remember telling him at the time that he was the best interviewer I‘d ever worked with.

He has a Ph.D in Music History from UBC. He‘s made six trips to Iceland but given his knowledge of the music and cultural scene, you‘d think he‘d spent a lifetime there. I certainly did. He says he is a hopeless “miðbærritta“, that is a guy who thinks the whole world revolves around 101 Reykjavik.

It would be impossible to do justice to Donald‘s lecture, slide show without writing like Hunter S. Thompson.

We saw bands of every kind. And, in Iceland, there are bands of every kind. I‘ve always wondered where Bjork, Monsters and Men, Siguros, etc. Etc. Etc. came from. How come, with a population of less than 320,000 that there are musicians of very kind, playing multiple instruments, old instruments, space age electronic instruments, playing multiple styles?

Donald provided the answer. The system in Iceland provides funding for every child to have music lessons. The child in Reykjavik and the child on the most isolated farm. The cost is split between parents and state. I wish I could have hauled all those people into the auditorium with us, those people who want to fund nothing in the education system unless it leads directly to a job, to a trade, who think things like music lessons are a waste of the taxpayer‘s money.

Donald told us about Icelandic music culture. About the Airwaves festival which he describes as the hippest event on the planet. Five days of musical mayhem. He credits some things that Iceland doesn‘t have for the creativity and productivity of musicians and, remember, everyone is a musician.

What don‘t Icelanders have? They don‘t have the powerful influence of marketing companies. They don‘t have corporations telling them how they ought to be. They don‘t have fear of failure. They are playing among friends for themselves and their friends instead of for paid audiences of strangers.

Everyone, no matter what age, listens to the same music. Parents, teenagers, kids listen to the same music. Part of that has to do with demographics. Iceland‘s population is young. There is a lot of support for young parents and young children. Parents take kids to rock concerts. Musical events, a lot of the time, are family events.

I saw this when I watched a video about Of Monsters and Men. Crowds were streaming into an open area to listen to them. There were young parents with babes in arms, kids in strollers, kids holding their parents’ hands. There were even some people who might have been grandparents in the crowd.

What a contrast this morning, from Fred who is dedicated to preserving Mormon history to Donald with Reykjavik 101, party, party, dance all night, drink all night, listen to music all night, and then eat Subway type sandwiches for breakfast.

It’s all Iceland. It’s all part of our history. I know that I’ll be looking up those Mormon sources. Some of the letters we got to read were surprising, even shocking. I know that I now understand more about the Iceland of our ancestors. I also know more about the Iceland of the present.

Before I forget, did I tell you about breakfast? Before we listened to these lectures, about the scrambled eggs, the bacon, the scones, the jams, the fruit, the yogurt, the coffee black as the devil’s soul but, I’m sure, much better tasting?

Did I tell you that next year this party is going to be in Winnipeg?

Did I tell you…? Never mind. Later. I’ve got to get dolled up for the banquet tonight. Comb my hair, try to look respectable. More food, more talks. More surprises. I’m glad the Clipper doesn’t charge passengers by weight. It would cost more to go home than to come to Seattle.