photo by: Jerzy Sawluk  /

photo by: Jerzy Sawluk /

The majority of us is blessed with enough food, somewhere to live, clean water and a standard that makes us free from materialistic worries. On this basis, we have free capacities to think about what we consume, where it is produced, how to have a fulfilled life and how to become the person we want. Some call that first world problems but I would call it freedom to act. We have the freedom and the power to care for others, in our neighborhood and in other parts of the world. With freedom and power comes responsibility.

But what is our responsibility? Consuming “right”, without harm for humans and animals, is already a huge challenge. Where to begin? Is it enough to donate for a school project in Namibia, sign online petitions for clean water and get mad on twitter about those countless injustices in the world? There are many possibilities and there is no “enough” or “just right”. On the other hand can it be discouraging to know that we cannot do everything in a correct way, whatever that means. However, it is not about doing most, it is about starting at all.

Everything is politics

Doing something for or in society is politics. Besides the definition that Politics is about governing a country, “Politics” in its original meaning describes “social acting that has the goal to agree on values of the communal life of people”.(1) Taken loosely and in simple terms, politics is everything that happens between people in the public environment. At the moment we leave our house, we are part of politics. We cannot even walk through the streets without considering the concerns of other people. We constantly have to negotiate who crosses the street first, who can use which parking space and who pays for lunch. Sure, this is daily life but gives a hint, how politics can be understood and where opportunities are waiting to create, to change, to leave a trace.

Steffen Rasmussen interview

Steffen Rasmussen runs for city council in Aarhus/Denmark.

We met a young man from Denmark, who lives this view of politics. He is driven by an urgent passion to leave his mark in society. “I feel this urge. A fire. A raging desire to do good, in a world that’s gone bad. For the people and for the planet.” Steffen Rasmussen from Aarhus runs as candidate for his local city council. Being a musician (Sky Architects), and the former owner of a label, a magazine and a festival (Postfest), he always was involved in the cultural scene of his region. For many years now he also initiated social projects, helping homeless people and raising awareness for environmental problems.

Why should you go into politics?

Being active for society has many faces but the traditional way of becoming a politician is probably one of the most unsexy, at least for a young musician. Steffen Rasmussen does it anyway and runs for a seat in the city council. He explains why: “Many people want to change things, and the more they become aware, the more frustrated and hopeless everything seems. I´ve been hit by this so many times, but I have chosen not to give into the feeling. Because the more frustrated we become, the less change we make. When we feel hopeless, we lean back and do nothing. Perhaps we share a lot of links on facebook and rage upon the headlines or perhaps we join a demonstration or something. But how much do we actually change?

That´s why I chose to candidate for city council. To start somewhere, and use the ripple-effect as my best ”partner in crime”. To do good for the people here in the city who really need a helping hand. I want to drive sustainable change in this city and I believe I can change things.”

What drives you to change the world?

Where does the drive come from to move beyond just silencing one’s conscience? We asked Steffen about “Hope” and “Passion” and how this is connected to his work:

For me hope and passion are the key ingredients towards a better world and a better life for ourselves and those around us.

“Without passion there can be no hope, and without hope how can we have passion? For me hope and passion are the key ingredients towards a better world and a better life for ourselves and those around us. If you can dream something, you can do it. I truly believe that. But it requires the hope that you can reach your goal. And to do so, you need passion. Now my entire passion is centered around a hope and a belief that I can make things better, for those who need it the most. And my hope is that with a big enough effort, an honest mouth and a fire within, this can actually be achieved. And for me it has to start locally to be able to spread.”

Especially in a local environment, culture is a big part of politics. Helping people to find a place and a vision for life is often connected to cultural involvement.

Is music political?

Steffen comes from a music background. We share the opinion that music is more than entertainment. What music means is mainly subject to the listener, but musicians should be aware of their influence on people and at least not misuse this. Of course not every band should be political in a narrow sense. But seeing politics in our broader definition, music is political because it affects social life, how we deal with each other and how we see the world. Steffen has something to add here:

“I have been severely disappointed by the music scene during this campaign. I know many of them support me, but they´re just so afraid to speak out for something in public. I have worked so hard to help all of these bands here achieve their goals, and now, when I went to them and asked for help for this campaign, 90% of these same bands didn´t even reply. And most of those who did, said ”well, we don´t want to be political”.

Use what you have, to try and do good.

Again, the question arises, what “political” means. Many bands do understandably not want to be connected to party politics. But what about the public sector in general?
“What is ”being political”? If those people who have the ability to create something and influence our lives do not wish to take responsibility then what is the purpose? What is the purpose for all the hours they work with these projects? What is the purpose with all the funding they get? And all the press? No matter what you do, you have to be willing to tell the world what you believe and be willing to take steps towards making it happen. Use what you have, to try and do good.”

A fact you need to know is that Danish bands have the possibility to get proper funding from the state. The question is, if this brings a responsibility for the public. It should not be seen as a duty to “pay something back” because this would create a dangerous connection between party politics and music.

How not to be eaten by the game.

The young musician tries to bring new values into politics and starts at his local environment.

The young musician tries to bring new values into politics.

The advantage of young people like Steffen going into political positions is that they bring new energy to established structures. Parliaments have their own rules of power and we would like to see them changed. But didn’t any young politician have good motives? How long does it take until harsh reality makes them all to robots? There can be a way to preserve that as Steffen describes:

“I have created three groups surrounding me if I actually get elected. Their sole purpose is to make sure I don´t loose myself and my values. So I have a ”sustainable group”, a ”cultural group” and a ”social group”. Each group consists of seven people who know a lot about the given subject. We meet some times every year and they will keep criticizing me and help me to stick to my goals and principles.

I´m very aware of the risk of getting lost in some political game. To preserve that one important thing for me is to take an open stand against spin-doctors. Politics needs to be honest. What is democracy when we don´t know who we vote for and why we vote for them? So I promised myself to say what I want and when I want. I have had all these communications-people who have been trying to tell me what to do. I´d rather be screaming to an empty room, than tell 1.000 people whatever they want to hear.”

How does the establishment react?

How do people react on a young man entering the political arena?

“I feared the worst, but I´ve gotten the best. I´m stopped by total strangers in the street several times a week, and they´re all like ”Hey man, me and my family are all voting for you” which is amazing. Not just for the ego, but to see that regular people can look past the ring in my nose and my young age, and be willing to give me a chance.

I´ve met several of the people on city council as well, and I´ve been surprised to see how seriously they´ve taken me.”

Not just talk, act!

Let’s make it concrete: What can you change in a city council? How will you work there?

“If you want to help people, you have to ask them what they need. So I meet people and organizations. Playing chess with homeless people, talking to the leader of a prostitutes shelter, meeting with people developing sustainable solutions etc. I´m learning so much from these people, and it gives me a much clearer perspective of myself, of the campaign and of the goals. Both spiritually and workwise.

If you want to help people, you have to ask them what they need.

Besides that, it´s just a lot of social media, press, interviews, fundraiser-concerts, events, soon some crowd funding and much more.

My goal is to get enough votes to join the city council, but that is not the highest purpose. The bigger goal is to help give a voice to some of the issues that need it. To make people look inwards. To make artists, CEOs and local politicians realize that they have to take part in changing things and not just work to achieve their own success. The goal is to start something that can grow bigger and make a real difference – also on the long run. I know it sounds like idealist bullshit, but I already see it working on so many levels. People have a tendency to want to save it all at once. I tried, but it´s just not possible. But starting locally is the way to go for me.”

If you chose to leave your couch and do something beyond social media, you are of course subject to potential failure. If you believe you can change something and go for a position, there are many options to fail but also many options to succeed. That’s the old logic, the one who does nothing can’t do anything wrong. Steffen also thought about other options if his campaign fails and he doesn’t seem like anybody who just needs some attention:

change“I have a plan-b if I don´t get enough votes. I´ve opened up a company called ”The foundation”. This is actually the first time I´m mentioning it. We will do campaigns for NGOs, fundraising events and the like. This way we earn money while doing good. And then a lot of the profits from every year will be handed out to people and organizations. This will be an organization that is very clear in its beliefs, and we will not be afraid to speak loudly in any way. But we need it to grow real big, to have actual power to change things.”

What do you think will you have achieved in 20 years? And what will the world look like?

“Still working. If the world does not start increasing the speed of which we are developing sustainable changes, then all will be lost at some point.

Extremes are not a good thing, but neither is indifference.

We keep producing more than we need, we keep having to have ”growth” in order for the economy to work. But it´s a vicious circle that can´t keep functioning. I want to see real changes in technology and want people to stop thinking in ideologies. Extremes are not a good thing, but neither is indifference. I want people to realize that the economic models we use are not working, but neither is trying to pretend like money doesn´t matter.
It´s about real – and hard – changes, but it´s the only way to actually change things.”

Steffen, thank you for your time and open words. We will follow the path of your campaign and talk again when things have developed. Now let’s see what goes on beyond my doorstep and what I can do to change things there.

1: Thomas Bernauer et al.: Einführung in die Politikwissenschaft. Studienkurs Politikwissenschaft. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, Baden-Baden 2009, P 32