Educator Profile – Liza Kettil
SWEDEN Educator Profile: Liza Kettil
In this interview Liza Kettil shares her journey as an educator, social democrat, feminist and anti-racist in Sweden. A graduate of IFWEA’s Youth Globalisation Awareness Programme (YGAP) in 2015 , she reflects how the programme impacted her life, and its importance for international solidarity today. Liza Kettil also describes her experience running as the Swedish Social Democratic Party (Sveriges Socialdemokratiska arbetarparti) candidate in her municipality, and the impact of the study circle education programmes for members in the election.
Your role in ABF: My position in the ABF is that I am working with our political organisations and our housing organisations in ABF Västra Götaland, which is the district for other smaller ABF organisations. I am also group leader for the Social Democratic Party in Munkedal in my free time.
Tell us about your youth in Sweden and your journey as educator: I come from Kungälv which is a small town outside of Gothenburg in the west of Sweden and I grew up with my mother and my father, and I have a 6 years’ younger sister. It was quite a different and difficult childhood as my father was very sick, so he was mostly in hospital for the first 5 years of my life. So while I was growing up we never knew if my father was going to survive or not, and this was difficult because both hospital and death was a part of our everyday life. Basically it was only me and my Mom because my Dad was in the hospital, and my Mom was working as a cleaning lady at these big sport arenas. She had to go out very early in the morning – working very hard so she was very tired at the end of the day – because she had to take care of me, and her husband was sick. So eventually even also my Mom got sick, and by then I was living with two sick parents, and my younger sister.
Impact of the Conservative government: In 1991 when the economy crashed and the Conservative government took over my Mom lost her job, and my parents had bought a house, and it wasn’t very good. We didn’t have any money at all, and I was 12 at the time, so this thing of going to the movies when you are a teenager, buying new clothes and all of that – I could never do it because we could never afford any. My dream was to go shopping with my Mom…
Joining the Social Democratic Youth Organisation (SSU): The funny thing is that I used to think I got into politics by chance. I met the SSU at my school when I was 15 years old, and I realised am that my life experience was telling me “you need to get into politics because you have the background and knowledge that can actually make a difference”. I know how it feels to not have any money at all, and to see my Mom crying because she doesn’t really know if we can keep the house or not.
Getting educated: So it was quite difficult growing up and I had to take a lot of responsibility for my sister. I attended school of course and when I left I attended university. I studied media and communications, cultural studies and ethnology – I have two degrees and one almost finished Master’s degree!
How did your political journey and work as educator develop? I joined the SSU in 1994, and in 1995 I got elected in my youth club to become the organiser of studies, it was the first thing I got elected to do. A few years later I got elected in the District Board of our local regional district, also to organise the studies. I didn’t know what I got myself into, but actually when I learned the form of the study circle and realised the power behind it, it really got me into it.
Study circles – the education methodology: When I went into the regional board it was because I wanted to become the organiser of the studies, so when I became President of the regional board, I was very sad that I had to leave the organising of the studies behind. To organise the study circle, to help people grow in their activism is the thing that I really love doing.
Equality in study circles: I like study circles because you are equal – so even if you have someone holding everything together and making sure everybody gets to say what they want to say, we are still equal and we can decide together. So if we decide this is the way we want to go, we can go that way and there is no hierarchy. So even if you have a group leader, you are only leader by name, you are still equal and I like that.
For example, I had this study circle where we were writing our election programme for the Social Democratic Party in Munkedal, and we had one member from Syria who has been in Sweden for 3 years, and another member who has been a part of the party in Munkedal for 45 years, and is considered a leader. In the study circle we were sitting there together being equal, every voice matters the same, and that is what I really like about it. Since my Mom was a cleaner and my father was a sailor, they didn’t have any education, so I would say that the study circle actually is one of the things that got me into university, because I learned how to study because I didn’t know how before.
The impact of the education study circle programme on members in the recent elections: For 6 years we have been working a lot with study circles and education in our local branch in Munkedal, because they had stopped it and didn’t educate the members. So our local party leader and I decided to educate our members, and we have this organisation of study circles within the party – you do Members’ Education step 1, then you go to Members’ Education step 2. So the study circle is set but you can still adapt it. In the previous election we did our election programme in the study circle, we did the same thing this year, and we could actually see now in this election campaign that we had a lot more members being activists than 4 years earlier.
Members feel ownership of the party because now they understand, whereas some of them were members for 10 or 20 years but they did not feel ownership, because they did not know how everything was connected, how we are organised and what our history is. Now that they have that knowledge, and they also were also part of creating the election programme – they feel ownership – like this is their cause, and we need to win the election. So I would say that working with the study circles actually changed everything for us, even though the result in the end is that the racist party won the majority.
Education inspires ownership and activism: We also have a strong group of 130 members in our local branch – half of them are 75 years and older – but we are around 40 people being activists every day. We didn’t have this many people before, and it makes a lot of difference. I think if we continue the work we will actually have a huge impact in the election 4 years from now. I would say the education programme has completely changed everything in our organisation. I am very happy that we took that step so many years ago, because otherwise we would have been completely shattered by now – but we know we are a strong organisation and we will move on.
Tell us about the political situation in Sweden currently: The political situation is quite difficult I would say. In my municipality I was the candidate for the Head of City Council – the first name on our list for office, which usually means that either you become Head of City Council, or you become Head of the Opposition. The Social Democrats used to be the largest party in my municipality, with the power of rule. We are now the second biggest party because the racist party (Sweden Democrats / Sverigedemokraterna) got 24.76% and we got 22.91%. In the voting district where I lived before I moved a year ago – where my kids still live half of their time – the racist party got 33% of the votes, and we got 13% and that is in a rural area, so we have a lot of challenges.
The racist party says they want to rule in Munkedal. So it seems we might have a Head of Council in the City Council that is a racist, we will be on the Board of the Council, but we may not even be Head of Opposition, we might lose that as well, so my position is quite difficult and uncertain right now.
When it comes to the national election, the red-green left coalition got 144 seats in Parliament, the Conservatives got 143, and then the racist party got 62. If the Conservatives decide that they can rule with the support of the racist party, they will become government, and the racist party will be have the power of rule in the government, so it is a difficult situation.
How would this situation impact government on a municipal level? The problem is that they are a party that people vote for because they are against the older parties – they are voting for a change, they are voting for something different.
The racist party are promising that they will open up small village schools, and that we should have homes for the elderly in every part of the municipality. But they are not saying how much it would cost and how it would work.
In the last 4 years the racist party got 6 seats in our local Parliament, and 6 replacements – and all of the 6 elected people left, so the 6 replacements got in – they have such a little people. They need to fill all of the Boards like the school board, the board for healthcare etc. and they don’t have people for it. We know that people are leaving so there will be empty seats – so they will not be able to rule even though they have the power, and since they are the majority we can do nothing. The worst case scenario is that our municipality will break down, which is so hard to accept because we have spent 8 years building up the economy.
Will the administration stop working? Yes, because nothing will be done because no one will be ruling – but they will still have the votes as long as the Conservative Party goes along with them. What needs to happen is that the Conservative Party can call for a new majority and a new ruling in the municipality, and then we could step in. But if they have moved all the administration from City Hall to the rural areas, how would we rebuild that? It would be such a challenge, so I’m quite worried.
Personally, since the racist party is the biggest party – you know my two youngest daughters are in my foster care – their biological mother is from Turkey and their biological father is from Syria. For me this becomes a matter of the heart, because this party wants to send away my kids and I don’t feel my kids are safe right now -because I don’t know what will happen to them, that is very difficult.
A huge change in the system of democracy leads to a lot of uncertainty and insecurity: The ironic thing is that I moved here 10 years ago because I wanted to get out of the big city because I wanted my kids to grow up in a safe environment, and now it feels maybe I should move back into the city where people are more educated and not so racist.
What is the importance of gender in education programmes and building membership? I would say especially where I live in the rural area, we have a strong history of patriarchy – a lot of strong men saying “this is the way we do things” in the party, so it has been difficult. When I was elected as our candidate, people were saying “oh could we really elect such a young woman?” I am 39 years old and I have been in politics for 24 years, and I have been elected in my municipalities for 20 years so I am not young, I am a grandmother! I have been around for such a long time, and they would have never said that about me if I were a 39 year old man.
At the same time I would say half our organisation is gender blind which is quite good. Our local Social Democratic party leader, is also the leader of the paper workers’ union at the paper factory we have here. She became the leader when she was only 32 years old – the first woman – a young woman, and the reason she was asked to become the leader of the Social Democratic Party is because she was a good union leader, it didn’t matter if she was a man or a woman.
So I would say her becoming the leader of the union and then the Social Democratic Party, opened up the way for younger women to become strong members of our organisation. I would say our education programme been quite important for discussing gender equality, how gender oppression works – because we did not talk about before, but now we talk about them in our study circles and for a lot of the elderly members – they have never spoken about these things before.
What is the way forward? We had a meeting and discussed that people are now both angry and afraid. So we are saying that we need not mourn, we need to get organised! It is a cliché but it is so true. So it is interesting, because when we had our board meeting everyone was agreed that now we need education, now we need study circles, now we need to organise our members so that they feel that they are part of making a change.
So this is new, because suddenly everyone was talking about how we need to get organised to continue the struggle.
The term anti-racist has been used much more in Swedish politics recently. Can you explain how this fits into the culture of democratic socialism? I would say that you cannot be a democratic socialist and be a racist, it is not possible to combine. I got the same question from newspapers and the radio channels coming up to the election asking: “If the racist party is big, could you consider working with them?” We also got the question after the election now, and I have been saying the same answer all the way, and this is what we decided. For me – I felt it in my heart, but also we had spoken about it amongst our members: that when it comes to the racist party we are never ever opening up our door to them, we will never work with them in any way.
Sharing values: When it comes to the other parties we share a lot of the values like we respect democracy, we respect human rights, we respect that people are equal – even though people can have different backgrounds, we are still equal – we are human beings. We disagree with these parties on how we organise society – we want to organise society by the principle of democratic socialism.
Losing freedom: But when it comes to the racist party, they want to change the whole structure of the society and they want to put labels on people. They are also saying that even though you are born a Swede – you can get your citizenship revoked if you are not being a “true Swede.” So they are saying if you do not agree with the racist party, you can actually lose your citizenship in the country– so you can actually be thrown out of the country! Which means that me as an anti-racist feminist mother of my children, I can actually be sent away. I don’t know where they would send me though!
Education against racism – questioning perceptions and addressing facts: So I am saying that the struggle of anti-racism is more important now than ever, and you need to address it, actually talk about what racism is because people do not understand what it is. They will say things like: “I sort of like the racist party, I like some immigrants but I do not like the Muslims” or “They can come here but must they really do the things they do?”, and so on. The group who voted for the racist party – 85% of these voters think that we are heading to Armageddon, that our society is collapsing. And if you look at the true facts: our economy is strong, the employment rates are higher than ever – we have the highest employment in all of the European Union – things are going very well. Even people who had difficulty getting a job are getting jobs today, so people have a good life. Which means we really need to ask: “How do you know that all people with a Muslim background do this and this?” “How do you know that people with black skin are different from you?”
One of the things that made me join the Social Democratic youth organisation in 1995, was that the Nazi organisations in my home town was very strong – not the racist organisation – but the Nazi organisations, and they are still strong. They actually candidated for the City Council in my home town, they did not get in but they got a lot of votes and they did a lot of marches and so on. Since 1995 we are pretend they don’t exist, we don’t talk about them, and we don’t force them to talk about what they truly mean – we actually need to challenge them. That is why the anti–racism question is so important when it comes to working with democratic socialism today, because otherwise people will not be equal, and people will not be able to participate the way we want to organise society.
Facing racism and extremism – Youth Globalisation Awareness Programme (YGAP): I think YGAP is more important now than ever because you can get hope and connect with the activist inside yourself, because we forget how to be activists – I did, I needed to come to Cape Town to remember I am an activist! (Describes the feminist symbol tattoo on her left arm that she got 2 weeks after returning home to Sweden from South Africa in 2015) pictured aboveI wanted to remember what I had forgot – that I was an activist, a socialist and a feminist. It is a good thing to get away from your ordinary life for two weeks, and then I had another two weeks in Namibia. I became sick and went into the hospital – I have chronic asthma, I am fine now, but I was quite sick so it was troublesome on the way back.
So for me the impact of YGAP was at different levels. One of the impacts was realising that I got my asthma attack and ended up in hospital, due to visiting a family’s home – and the home was in a poor state. I was there for 15 minutes and I got sick, and they were living there, so when I take my medicine daily it is a reminder that that is not how I want life to be – that there is a struggle that we need to continue for everyone. And also that you never get anything for free, that it could be taken away, even the welfare that we have here in Sweden it is not for free, it is something we have earned through struggle.
But also getting away from my everyday life I realised that I want to work with this education full time, I want to work with popular education and I want to work within the labour movement. So then I started applying for jobs within and got a few offers but ended up working with education at the ABF for one and a half years now. I am so amazed that I get paid to go out and educate people every day because it is not only my work – it is my calling.
What is the importance and impact of global solidarity? A part of something bigger: In our local branch doing we were writing the election programme together and during that process I contacted different party members across the country for input on their election programmes. When I collected all of these things and got them to my group I could show that the Social Democratic Party in all these parts are doing the same thing as us, and had similar ideas. We discussed how it feels that you are part of something bigger and you can feel that social democracy is the same, even if you are in Munkedal or in Malmö, or even in Cape Town South Africa!
Since we live in a rural area we have been disconnected from the world, we have been in our own little corner. Since the war in Syria, we have a lot of people in Munkedal today coming from war, and actually one of our members he was a refugee, and he moved to Sweden in 2014. I would say that his activism made the rest of the members realise how important international solidarity is, when he was doing his 1st of May speech. He was standing in this open space saying: “This so big for me that I can be standing here, coming from a dictatorship, and now being here in a free democracy saying what my heart desires to say.”
They have been hearing me speaking about the project I am involved with in Namibia, and going to Cape Town, but this did not make the change. For them the change happened when they met this new member, and realised that Syria and Munkedal are quite similar and it is close. After opening up to that, they also ask me about the project in Namibia – they realised they are part of something much bigger. And I would say that YGAP is doing the same thing even though you apply for YGAP because you are quite aware, or you just want to make a cool trip. When you go to YGAP you get this connection to something bigger, so I would say international solidarity is essential.
What are the challenges for workers and youth in Sweden? I would say the biggest challenge, even though employment is high even within the group of young workers, is that they have unsecure employments – short contracts, or employed hour to hour. I can see when it comes to my daughter – she is working in a restaurant and they call after she has been working for 7 days, asking her to come work the next day, and she feels she doesn’t dare say no because she really wants to keep her job. A lot of young people experience this, which mean that they don’t dare to go into the union, and they don’t dare to get organised – if they do they will lose their jobs. I would say the biggest challenge today is to get rid of these unsecure type of employments, so that people will feel secure and they will dare to organise.
Right now it’s like a party for the capitalism because they got what they wanted – people are afraid – they don’t want to lose their jobs so they don’t organise, that is a huge problem. This could actually erase the Swedish model if this continues, so I would say it is a huge and very important struggle today.
What keeps you motivated and inspired? I would say actually the things that make me continue are my daughters. We are in 2018, and we are talking about the right to my own body, we have to talk about abortion again… We used to have this in Sweden – if you were married you used to pay taxes together with your husband – then it wasn’t so lucrative for a woman to work. The racist party is saying that we should have that again – they want to take women back from the working force into the kitchen.
I want all of my four daughters and my granddaughters to do and be whatever they want to be, a police officer or movie star or whatever, that’s what keeps me motivated. I am tired, I have been working 24 years and it feels like I am starting over, talking about things that I talked about so long ago. You know since my girls have these dark eyes and dark hair, and my youngest one, her biggest dream is to have blue eyes, so that people will not tease her… it makes me cry.
I want my daughters to be able to work with whatever they would like to work with, to love whoever they want to love, and also to be able to live in a free democracy.
What message would you like to give to educators in our global community? Do not give up! Do not lose hope, we need to continue, it is the only way. We have done it before – if you look back 100 years at society, how it was organised in Sweden – we need to remember we were one of the poorest countries in the world and we were able to raise ourselves and become a democratic welfare state! So not everything is lost but we need to continue and not lose hope…