Still Adjusting | Stay informed, get engaged, vote

On the same day this column appeared in print format, I addressed a small group of expats at the International House as a ‘democracy role model’. My immediate thought when invited to take part was that they must have found the wrong guy, but after speaking with the organiser I realised that, through virtue of this job, maybe I am more engaged in Danish society than I thought.

As The Copenhagen Post’s news editor, I stand at a portal between Denmark and the world. Through the stories I select, the non-Danish speaking world – that would be about 99.93 percent of the global population – can get a glimpse, if they are so inclined, of what goes on in this tiny little country.

One of the things I’m most proud about at the Post is that we are on the one hand accused of being blind cheerleaders for Denmark who produce an endless parade of ‘Denmark is best/ happiest etc’ stories, while at the same time written off as a bunch of bitter foreigners who do whatever we can to put Denmark in a bad light. That we have complaints from both extremes makes me think we are actually doing a pretty good job.

If you were to judge solely by the small core of our dedicated website commenters, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that we do a lot of preaching to the choir, highlighting some of Denmark’s problems – usually in the area of how it treats its foreigners – to a group already painfully aware of them. Or that we highlight Denmark’s triumphs – in the areas of environment, research and, of course, ‘happiness’ – just to purposely troll our readers.
But actually, about half of our website traffic comes from outside of the country. I like knowing that we are helping to form international opinion – both good and bad – about Denmark. Because despite how much better and quicker the Danish newspapers are able to cover things than we are, who outside of Denmark can really read it?

And despite the sometimes shrill nature of the comments section, I like knowing that we provide a forum for the estimated 380,000 foreigners permanently residing in Denmark. (It is, of course, my wish that more Danes would read us and I truly think they should.)

So yes, I suppose that as a human filter who decides which stories we should pursue, and which we should not (usually due to our limited manpower) I am rather engaged in Danish society and democracy. I think all foreigners should be. And the first step to being engaged is being informed. Continue to read us, and learn how to read Danish so you can follow along in the national debate.

A second step is to make your voice heard. I’d love to see new names popping up in our comments section, more op-ed submissions and more story tip-offs on things that matter to internationals in Denmark. Or do it less formally. Don’t be afraid to engage with Danes and other foreigners about the things you think Denmark should improve on, and those things that are working quite well.

The next step is to make sure you vote on November 19. EU citizens and foreigners who have lived in Denmark for at least three years are given a voice in the local elections – where things like funding for your kids’ daycare and the local solution to the government’s new recycling programme will be decided.

Voting is something I have always taken seriously. I’ve continued to vote in the US since I’ve been here and plan to always do so. In a few weeks, I’ll cast my first ever ballot in Denmark, and with it my engagement in Danish society will be formalised.

As a non-Dane, I’m well aware that my opportunities here are limited. There’s the ever-present language issue and the simple fact that I’m not, and never fully will be (nor want to be, really), a part of the tribe. But for at least one day, I will be on an equal footing with the Danes: one person, one vote.

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