Boston Globe: Text ‘Aye,’ Matey! The Pirate Party’s Push for Direct Democracy

By Joseph E. Hamilton

On Tuesday, voters in two Massachusetts districts will find Pirates on their ballots for the State House of Representatives. The candidates in question—Noelani Kamelamela, running in Somerville’s 27th Middlesex District, and Joseph Guertin, on the ballot in the 8th Worcester District—are the first Bay Staters to run for office under the banner of the international Pirate movement. You may be picturing swashbuckling marauders out for political booty, but in fact the Pirate candidates stand for a more realistic but still provocative set of principles—namely, open government, free information, and the elimination of patents.

Kamelamela and Guertin have no chance of making it to Beacon Hill this week, and they know it. But their candidacies are something more than a typical flash-in-the-pan third-party effort. The Pirate movement is a loose collection of national parties that, since the first version was launched in Sweden in 2006, have been tracked by political observers as the vanguard of a bold new idea about how democracies might work.

Beyond their specific positions, the Pirates—whose name pays homage to both seafaring raiders of yore and their modern file-sharing heirs—want to change the process of government itself. Their idea is that modern technology is now fast and connected enough to enable regular people to debate and actually decide on the issues that affect their lives.

Though their base is mostly tech enthusiasts, Pirates so far have managed to win regional races in Germany and the Czech Republic, and currently hold one seat in the European Parliament. Similar experiments have begun elsewhere, under different banners: Iceland crowdsourced a possible new constitution; in Italy, a fast-growing new national party chooses its candidates through online voting.

The appeal of direct citizen control of the government is obvious: It seems a logical, even noble, extension of the democratic ideal. For the first time, government “by the people” could be just that. But even at this early stage, the Pirates and their peers have run into friction. They clearly represent a threat to traditional parties, which depend on older forms of representative government and have large war chests to defend their turf. And critics have begun pointing out deeper challenges, especially given the vast size of modern polities. What we know about how social media works isn’t always encouraging. Big crowds of participants create the danger of mob thinking, and give people with ample leisure time the chance to hijack the deliberative process.

Read the full article here.

8 thoughts on “Boston Globe: Text ‘Aye,’ Matey! The Pirate Party’s Push for Direct Democracy

  1. Pingback: Text ‘Aye,’ Matey! The Pirate Party’s Push for Direct Democracy – Joseph E. Hamilton | Libertarian Hippie

  2. Richard Winger

    Since they are both running for the Massachusetts legislature, maybe the cute picture would be improved if it showed the Massachusetts State House instead of Congress.

  3. paulie

    We don’t generally do our own graphics, just find them elsewhere on the web, so if you know one with pirates and the MA State House that could probably be done, or if you know someone who wants to custom make it as a free contribution. Personally I wouldn’t know how to make it.

  4. paulie

    Speaking of which, if anyone reading is interested in designing graphics for us, please let us know. Unfortunately, much like writing articles for IPR, it’s not paid work.

  5. Starchild

    For anyone familiar with the libertarian movement, the article’s report that the Pirate Party’s “base is mostly tech enthusiasts” should have a ring of familiarity to it. Libertarians have long been closely associated with tech culture and the Internet, and I believe this has been no accident. It makes sense that the people building and adopting the technology of the future should be in synch with the politics of the future. The Pirate Party’s appeal to tech enthusiasts similarly bodes well for the success of their ideas.

    Obviously there are issues and problems to iron out with direct citizen control of government, as there are with any system of government, but I think we libertarians would do very well to embrace and champion what is clearly an emerging global trend toward more direct democracy, as well as the accompanying theme of more transparency in government. Pirate ideas have a lot in common with libertarian ideas, and could be merged as a coherent whole.

    Allowing everyone to participate in decision-making, so that it is no longer restricted to a small group of political insiders, would mark an important step toward the libertarian ideal of letting each person make his or her own choices in life. It would undermine the notion that only well-trained “experts” (with those in power inevitably having a say in the nature of that training)* are qualified to make decisions for the rest of us. It is the modern equivalent of the class divisions between the nobility and the peasantry).

    *Consider how many of those in power are lawyers, with some positions like Supreme Court Justice or Attorney General occupied solely by lawyers, and the existence of a bar system dominated by government-approved cartels deciding who gets to become and remain a lawyer.

    The more libertarians are seen as being pro-transparency and pro-direct-democracy, the more likely the Pirate Party movement is to embrace libertarianism. As noted, I think these movements could potentially merge without much ideological friction. Such a harmonious confluence is by no means inevitable however. To the extent libertarians fail to champion the issues fueling the rise of the Pirate Parties and make them our own, I foresee the growth of the libertarian movement slowing as the Pirates begin to carry off (sorry, lol) young voters and activists who would otherwise join us. And of course the presence of pre-existing Libertarian parties reflecting much of the political consciousness of the tech community is a potential obstacle to the rapid spread of the Pirate Party movement if we do not manage to find common ground.

    Starting a Pirate Caucus in the Libertarian Party could help establish such a commonality of interests and keep the party on the cutting edge. But for it to find its sea legs (sorry again! 🙂 and achieve the degree of visibility outside the party that such a caucus would need in order to be effective in bringing the Pirate Party movement into the libertarian fold, the LP needs a more vibrant caucus system than exists at present.

  6. paulie

    Hi Starchild,

    Thanks for the good ideas! There’s definitely potential there, although the Pirate Parties in Europe tend to be aligned with the modern left on economic issues and are in alliances with them in parliaments.

    BTW I noticed you have had a draft article for quite a while, are you planning to get back to it?

  7. Thomas Hill

    You are spot on, Starchild! I have also been pondering a Pirate Caucus. This is similar to the same ideas we explored on our Team Fr33dom van tour in 2013, which you and Paulie will remember well. After today’s election, I will be willing and able to help kick start such a project.

  8. Starchild

    Paulie, I had completely forgotten about that draft article — thanks for reminding me! I don’t even remember what it was. Guess I’ll have to go check…

    Good point about the Pirate Parties being more statist on economics. Admittedly I’m not well versed in their politics, but my impression has been that the movement’s key issues are open government, more direct democracy and citizen empowerment through tech, and freedom of information (opposing intellectual property).

    I could be wrong, but I think their economic stances may be less deeply held, and may simply reflect the generally more economically statist ideological climate of European politics. If they see that libertarians are better than leftists on their core issues, they may come around to a more pro-freedom stance on economic issues. That’s my hope, anyway.

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