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Pirates In The House

Something surprising happened during legislative elections in Berlin on Sunday: A scruffy bunch of young men with dreadlocks, beards, and sweatshirts became the city’s newest legislators. The NYT has the story:

By winning 8.9 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election in this city-state, these political pirates surpassed — blew away, really — every expectation for what was supposed to be a fringe, one-issue party promoting Internet freedom. The Pirates so outstripped expectations that all 15 candidates on their list won seats — seats are doled out based in part on votes for a party rather than for an individual.

These men in their 20s and 30s, who turned up at the imposing former Prussian state parliament building, some wearing hooded sweatshirts, and one a T-shirt of the comic book hero Captain America, were no longer merely madcap campaigners and gadflies. They had become the people’s elected representatives.

Most Germans weren’t sure how to react. The Pirate Party hadn’t really been taken seriously. But the issues they bring to the discussion are problems that elder statesmen wave away to the bottom of the to-do list without considering how seriously they are taken by many young Berliners. Sunday’s vote was a vote for a new approach to politics in Germany:

The Pirates’ surprisingly strong showing came as further evidence of voter dissatisfaction in Germany with the established parties, and what many see as their inability to look beyond self-interest and focus instead on the needs of their constituents. The Pirates have promised to use online tools to give party members unprecedented power to propose policies and determine stances, in what they call “liquid democracy,” a form of participation that goes beyond simply voting in elections.

The party has broadened its initial platform, which focused on file sharing, censorship and data protection to include other social issues, advocating the Internet as a tool to empower the electorate and engage it in the political — and legislative — process.

While it is conceivable that the Pirate Party will transform itself into a long term, institutional movement (just as the German Green Party did a generation ago), it seems more likely that the Pirates will be remembered for raising issues rather than winning power.  The institutions of modern democratic life are less stable and eternal than they look.  The idea that career politicians meet in capital cities to vote on long and complex bills  which they mostly do not read is not necessarily here to stay.   The internet and other technological advances create possibilities for much more direct democracy than the representative systems we now have.  A greater use of social media in the political process and a further flattening of the state as citizens participate more directly in the processes of lawmaking may well be in our future.

The Pirate Party is beginning to explore some of the political terrain of the future; Expect more Pirate Party type movements and activism in Europe, the US and elsewhere as young people gain power and experience in politics.  The Arab world is not the only place in which institutions and social power are failing the young.

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  • Ken Moore

    “it seems more likely that the Pirates will be remembered for raising issues rather than winning power.” I read your story and looked up their platform which raises issues aplenty along with calls for lots of free stuff.

  • El Gordo

    They want, among other things, unlimited free education (if you want to spend ten years as a university student, no problem), free bus and subway rides for everyone, no more copyrights, more civil rights but total freedom of information (easy to see how these will clash) … The more pertinent question is what a culture will be remembered for that gives a bunch of kids 9 percent of their votes.

  • Joe

    They are out of their minds. They are simply too elementary in their thinking to understand that without copyrights, people hesitate to create anything for fear of it being stolen. On the other hand, they demand “datenschutz”. I guess their datenschutz only extend to stuff they don’t really want for their visual and musical amusement.

    Somebody tell them that there is no such thing as an “entitlement libertarian”.

    Being an overaged non-producing adolescent wanting nice, perfectly functioning cities to amuse you and transport you despite your doing nothing to make it that way is not a philosophy. Being a gamer and sellign Android apps is not a profession that can be organized for the purposes of collective bargaining.

    The scary thing, is that this is the nation’s future braintrust.

    Their platform is basically a letter to Santa Claus, which is entirely normal to most young Germans before they actually end up working and subsisting off of their own earnings.

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