The Pirates of Berlin
The recent elections in Berlin brought a breath of fresh air to the old, dull, gray landscape of political parties around the world. At a time when it is hard to tell the difference between parties as they espouse old, tired, out-of-date ideas, along comes something completely different – the Pirate Party of Berlin.
Prior to the Berlin elections, the predictive articles in the German press were all about the traditional parties and which of them would increase and which would decrease in popularity and legislative influence. Much of the coverage related to the parties’ relative positions on the Euro crisis and whether the elections would be a mandate on Chancellor Merkel’s position on that critical issue. It was expected that the ever-more-mainline Green Party – which had been an outsider when compared with the Free Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the other traditional parties – would increase its influence and legislative power.
Well, surprise! An upstart party called the Pirate Party polled 8.9 percent of the votes, overnight becoming a new force on the political landscape. Compare that with less than 2 percent of the vote for the Free Democrats, Merkel’s coalition partner, which, because its total was well below the 5 percent needed to remain in the statehouse, is no longer there.
In the post-election press conference, the winning legislators of the Pirate Party – all in their 20s and 30s – showed up in hooded sweatshirts, with one even wearing a Captain America T-shirt. When the Pirate Party was challenged as possibly being a joke, several academic pundits pushed back, saying that the upstart group was truly filling a void for voters who were outside the mainstream, obviously young, and had felt underrepresented by the gray conformity of the traditional parties. As millennial members of the Pirate Party stated, even the Green Party has gone mainstream. Any analogy there with American millennials and Obama?
The Pirate Party ran on issues like online privacy, data protection, complete transparency in politics, and a promise to use online tools to give party members unprecedented power to propose policies in what they have called “liquid democracy” – a participation that is ongoing and of a deeper engagement than simply voting in elections. Andreas Baum, the party’s lead candidate in the election, went further and defined transparency as “also being able to admit when we don’t know something.” Wow! That’s a concept that is completely foreign to the current landscape of career politicians, who are leading their respective countries down a careening path to nowhere, with mild panic and uncertainty.
With the U.S. moving toward the 2012 electoral free-for-all, the Pirate Party is not only a breath of fresh air, but, hopefully, a wind of change starting to blow across the electoral landscape of the democratic world. The Democrats and the Republicans can’t work together, can’t come up with new ideas, and are therefore bashing each other with the old, tired language that continues to represent the legacy thinking of the last century. Perhaps it is time for the young people of the U.S. to look closely at the Pirate Party of Berlin and craft an American version that could start to loosen up the deadening language, direction and ineptitude of the political party duopoly in the country.
In the 21st century, the Gilbert and Sullivan soundtrack to The Pirates of Penzance will give way to the Pirate Party’s soundtrack of Metallica and Eminem.