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An Edna for Espoo An Edna for Espoo
by Thanos Kalamidas
2012-10-22 10:40:59
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How does it feel to be the daughter of an immigrant Finn abroad returning back to find her roots and feel ... a foreigner; having to deal with all the problems immigrants have to deal with, the occasional xenophobia even racism and the same time, at least in theory, be an insider. Edna is a personal close friend for long time and we have shared from Christmas dinners to the studio where we co-host a radio show. Her candidacy in the local elections somehow didn’t come as a surprise, knowing her and her need to be involved. And municipality elections in Finland is all about getting involved.

In her own words,

edna01_400I grew up in the U.S.A and I am serious about inclusive democracy. My parents met in the USA where my mom is an immigrant from Finland. Now I am an immigrant IN Finland, I have worked in various fields and I believe that my experiences between nationalities, between classes, and between races has given me to opportunity to see things from a view that helps me value equality and social supports for all. From experience I know the difference between living with the benefit of good public services and living without them. As a child I always saw Finland as a fair place to live because everyone had so much support in their survival. Now that I am living in Finland I would like to do whatever I can to keep the public sector strong and make sure every person has the right and the resources to participate in our local democracy. 

Why now, why municipal elections?

Between now and the last municipal elections I have pretty much learned Finnish, gotten to know the parties and Finnish politics and figured out how to sign up to be in the elections. So I saw this years elections as my first real chance to jump in. I'm running on the municipal level because I want to take a stand on issues like health care, schooling and local public services which are primarily handled by municipalities in Finland.  It's important for people to have a say on the things that impact their everyday lives directly. 

Why with the SDP?

I'm running with SDP because it is the party that has been most welcoming to me. SDP's party platform is the best match for what I stand for at the moment which is: workers rights, a strong public sector which provides equal services for all, democracy, and including everyone in society. The people I have encountered in the party are a surprising mixture of the everyday and the exceptional. In the beginning I was unsure if I had made the right choice because there are other parties that seem on the surface to be more immigrant friendly than my own. Then I heard Reijo Paananen speak for the first time and I realized that SDP is a lot more than I expected. The thing that was significant about hearing Reijo speak was his energy but his words resonated with me. Reijo Paananen being the general secretary of SDP coming to Tapiola to speak to a local group and saying some of the things he said showed me that SDP is an aspiring party that values active people. From reading a bit more of SDP's platform and goals I could see that it is a party that truly believes in democracy that is supported by a strong social system. At SDP equality is not a question as much as a basic element of democracy. 

What do you think has gone wrong with Espoo the last decade?

People are not satisfied with the public health services. Immigrants are not being treated or talked about as ordinary members of society regardless of how long some have lived in Espoo. 

edna02_400What do you want to change in Espoo?

Concretely I would like to organize Awareness Training for everyone who works in Espoo's public sector: schools, day-cares or has to do any other essential service dealing with the people of Espoo. It is most important though to train teachers and doctors because teachers can make or break a child, and doctors can make or break an adult. It is important that we consider everyone including Immigrants in our plans to build society, and how can we include a group of people that many refuse to acknowledge are being left out? Or treated unfairly? We need to make sure people understand that equality is not ignoring difference, it's respecting it.  In my mind this training would be like a sociology crash course on how to deal with difference, and how to see ones own prejudice. 

This is something can practically be formulated and put into motion within 4 years. It would take a lot of consideration to get a good program running but I believe it would make a big impact on preventing the situation where people are outside of society, and maybe we could even achieve something exceptional. That would be my pet project. 

What is your main issue for these municipality elections?

My main issue is to protect public services in Espoo, and if there are resources enrich them. 

Immigrants and municipalities

Immigrants have equal rights on a municipal level as far as the ability to impact local conditions is considered. Anyone who has lived in Finland for 2 years or is an EU citizen has the right to vote in the local elections.  Immigrants who have decided against or are not yet eligible for citizenship can be active on a municipal level and make a real impact after only 2 years. Municipalities are the most responsible to immigrants, municipalities are the place where immigrants meet Finnish society, and how municipalities consider immigrants can create a mirror effect as to how immigrants may consider Finland.

It is the municipalities that can build community centres or expect public workers to deconstruct prejudice and build support systems for those struggling in their every day lives. It is on the municipal level that we can prevent situations like mass isolation of any group that later attract negative attention on a national scale. It is also where the seed of Finnish unity can be born by which I mean unity between all people living in Finland, a sense of inclusion an participation that is felt regardless of age, gender or country of birth. The municipality is a place where we are not citizens but we are residents and as residents we can see each other more fairly, person to person. It's important that Espoo looks at the experiences of immigrants in Espoo when accessing its services. My hope is that if someone immigrates or has immigrated to Espoo, this municipality is equipped to show that on a public level Finland is welcoming and offering resources to everyone equally. 

What about the impressive number of immigrant candidates in these local elections

Immigrants are people who have left the country they grew up, moved somewhere else where they might not even know anyone or the language, started a new life and survived  in politics you need the same kind of will power, courage and curiosity that you need to immigrate. Immigrants also have the passion to make a change, looking for a better place to live is a sign of discontent, immigrating is a way to show that one is willing to follow up on that discontent with action. Isn't that politics? It doesn't surprise me at all that immigrants are active in the municipal elections, and I know Finnish politics will just get more interesting as the society grows and diversifies. 

Why immigrants should vote

Immigrants should vote because political parties are aware of the immigrant voter population and that means that as a group we have a lot of power. Immigrants can choose to use this power or not. Having the right to vote and not doing it is a choice to give up ones power. Believe me the people who are in support of an isolated and unequal Finland will use their vote. If immigrants would on a whole become politically active than we would  be a real force to be reckoned with. If especially the immigrants who believe in equality, inclusion and respect for all go out and make their votes count than we would really make some progress. 

The worry I have is that often immigrants don't vote because there isn't enough information about the candidates and how the municipal government works to give the confidence one might need to vote. In my opinion it is most important to agree with the party and all the parties seem to have information about themselves available on in English.

In a few words summarise your targets.

Stronger public health services that serve people faster, public sector workers having a better understanding about how to serve immigrant communities in Espoo, more access to political information for all. 

Future political dreams?

I have big dreams, and I take each step as it comes. When running for the municipal government I am focusing on municipal dreams. I would love to run for Prime Minister one day, but I am focusing on this now. What I see is that politics needs money, friends and time. What I aim for is having  smart money, good friends, and enough time to occupy whichever political position I am offered in an honest way that honours my core values.

Edna's Espoo electoral number is: 654

You can always find more about Edna in her personal blog: http://ednanelson.wordpress.com/

Or her Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/edna.nelson.35?ref=ts&fref=ts

And you can always hear to her the day she first talked about her candidacy on radio: http://www.ovimagazine.com/radio/music01.mp3


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Get it off your chest
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Emanuel Paparella2012-10-22 14:10:17
Indeed, it is not easy to straddle two cultures and two continents. It's like walking on a high wire and everyone is looking up to see if you fall, but those are the kind of individuals who best understand the difference between assimilation and integration; the enormous difference between the metaphor of the "melting pot" and that of the "symphony" to illustrate how immigrants can fit in a democratic society; the kind of people who can make an enormous contribution to a host society open to immigration and willing to learn from "the other." Having been raised in the US Edna already knows those things. She now needs to educate those who confuse xenophobia for patriotism. Those two metaphors are as different as night from day. I wish you well Edna. You will go far in today's global village.

Edna Nelson2012-10-24 21:27:50
Thank you!

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