I attach importance to personal impressions, they are subjective of course, but they are reality, non-said, subjective reality, and they are also probably feed by external, “wire-less” vibrations. You can feel in the air when an entity is alive also because of the waves it spreads all around, and sometimes you get its message. “Without words”.
The General Assembly of the German Pirate Party was a vibrant demonstration of collective vitality. Each attending person knew she/he was a living part (which means, considered as such by all the others) of a common political construction. What stroke me is the energy that came out from the well prepared and accepted confrontation of each one’s strong determination to do it right. And the good organisation of the event that has been already praised by my colleagues , where it was obvious everyone knew what he/she had to do and why, enabled to frame and project this energy towards a hopeful political future.
Around 300 proposals were debated and voted, on the party program for the next federal election in November, on the party fundamental program, its statutes, and position papers.
When the proposal was presented by a member on stage in front of the whole assembly, people who wanted to ask questions to the member registered and did so when reaching the mike after they queued along a “question” line. Those who wanted to speak for or against the proposal also took the floor to support or challenge the proposal vis-à-vis the member on stage and the audience along a “pro” or “contra” line. And then came the vote…
Most debates went easy-peasy, Some were electric; but the chairperson was always there to make sure misbehaviours were avoided, and they were. Basis democracy was indeed a reality during these three days.
To me this General Assembly strongly contrasted with the genereal assemblies of some other traditional, big parties, where members ”support” or have to follow different internal party trends controlled and directed by a few, instead of having really a word to say. These supporters or followers didn’t have the same level of determination in their eyes that the one I saw in Germany. Definitly not.
I just left Germany with the feeling of having my battery reloaded for the week…
Knowledge is power says one sentence attributed to Sir Francis Bacon. While is almost certain that he didn’t said that, the wisdom included in it is no less valuable or true. And when power (kratos) is given to the people (demos) we have democracy.
This article is about a simple piece of paper that makes all the above true. As you found out from the press or the articles preceding this on, at the Bundesparteitag, the German Pirate Party debated fiercely on online General Assemblies and online voting.
But how can be a debate held with more than 1000 people in the same space, whatever the size of the room? The German pirates did it.
Every participant had a chair, a space on a table, a cable connection to high speed Internet, an agenda and a speaking system that allowed views to be expressed on the issues.
But for me as a guest there, the tool that I found most interesting was a colored sheet of paper: A4 format, folded in three and printed on both sides.
This is the first page:
It clearly explains for what is it used, what it contains and gives an explanation of symbols that can be combined to express a possible structure for online votes.
The second page looked like this:
It codifies the possible alternatives, it describes those using short titles and it explains them using the symbols form the first page.
This simple piece of paper had two effects:
1. It gave power to those present, the power coming from knowledge expressed in an easily understandable way, the power to construct ideals and thoughts.
2. Kept the debate structured in a way that showed that direct democracy is not anarchy and can provide results, given the right tools are used.
In my opinion, the 2013 Bundesparteitag showed that the German pirates have much more to say and show to the world. Their will to participate, the will to find innovative ways to lead a debate and reach the best outcomes are well served by their tagline Ich Bin Motiviert and German people will better listen to the pirates as they have something important to say.
This is the second part of the article you could have read yesterday, named ”Online voting? German Pirates want it, but…” and actually I’ve also written a very similar article for the Czech readers in my blog, where I described more thoroughly the late development of the German Pirate Party and their issues within a wider context.
But let’s get back to the general assembly of the German Pirates – the atmosphere was quite amazing – especially when you see democratic processes take place in front of your eyes. And you also feel like in a documentary with all those cameras around. But that doesn’t seem so much interesting for the traditional media – more than a thousand people engaged in a long discussion and getting to a democratic compromise. They were explaining their concerns about possible flaws of the system of the online voting.
In the end they didn’t agreed upon one system and the discussions will continue, namely it might be accepted at the next Bundesparteitag – but a huge part of the work has been done.
It wasn’t so easy, because German Pirates use a 2/3 majority voting system – they require a wide agreement. And the one proposal that was just closest to be accepted missed only 23 votes. Probably because in the last day some tired Pirates have already left. Even such things can influence the party shaping process.
See the very nice and easy to understand brochure for the voting systems! And of course the Pirate Times covered this as well and in English. For sources in German, you can see all the proposals and results on their wiki. And there’s also a retrospective article by the board.
But let’s have a look on the other Pirate parties, which already have been using online voting systems! We can start with the Icelandic Pirate party, which has gained 3 seats in the national parliament recently. They build on a system, where the proposals must first get support of a reasonable part of the members and then the proposals are voted online for one week. This allows the party to be very dynamic and to react fast on current issues, even though it’s one of the youngest Pirate parties – or maybe because of it.
In the Czech Republic, where I come from, we have a similar mechanism implemented, but even handing in the proposals happens online. Such a proposal has to gather support of the square root of the amount of all the members (don’t tell me the Pirates are not geeks). Afterwards the issue is discussed thoroughly and when the discussion seems more or less finished (sometime it can be a week, sometimes months!), the process is finished by 48hour-long online voting. This system unfortunately requires the members to be under constant stress, because they never know, when something important might change or be discussed. But hopefully we will shift it towards a more regular process on our next general assembly in September.
On the other hand in the Swedish Pirate party (as I understood it, pls comment, if I got it wrong), which happened to be the first Pirate party ever, we can see more regularity. Perhaps thanks to its longer age. The proposals have to come through a standardized process, where each phase has a fixed length specified in the number of weeks (publishing the proposal, discussions, counter proposals, voting etc.) – and although this process is not as much dynamic as other parties might have (it takes place just 4 times a year) – in my opinion it’s much more relaxed and comfortable for the members, so more of them can actually take part and the principle of direct democracy is stronger there.
To summarize, I would like stress that we might see the Pirate parties also as an experimental incubator of direct democracy. Because even though there’s a strong principal of international cooperation among us, we are neither guided nor lead by any single authority, which would determine exactly, how we should work – so we actually try different methods in parallel.
I am really impatiently waiting for the next Bundesparteitag to see, what system the German pirates will adopt. But whatever the result will be, I’m sure it will be a next step on the long way towards a modern form of direct democracy, which will create a stable and fair political environment as it does already eg. in Switzerland.
15/5 2013 kl 22:19
After a fast and hard fall from the heights the German Pirates are up and running again and their preferences grow up. They focus their forces now on hard-working preparations for the elections instead of internal disputes and feel motivated #ichbinmotiviert. And it pays off – the last Bundesparteitag was a success, commented as outstandingly productive as most local media stated.
There were though some reasons of the previous fall and one of them was actually the inflexibility of the modern party. Because the German Pirates, as all Pirates around the globe put much emphasis on direct democracy and at the same time their general assemblies take place only twice a year, it was virtually impossible for their leaders to take any position in reaction on current events, if nothing connected was approved by all the members.
You can imagine that it hurts your PR, when you keep saying into cameras ”Sorry, we don’t have an official position on this.” Any opinion is better then just plain ”I don’t know.”
So this very weekend the pirates gathered not only to agree upon more than 800 pages of proposals, but also to vote, which kind of online voting they would like to have. To put you into the image – the party has currently around 34 000 members! Seriously, guys, you’d need a stadium for such a GA! The event was actually attended just by ”mere” 2000 people. Even so, it stays the largest general assembly organized by any party in Germany. And that’s because direct democracy. But how can be it so much direct, when only a small portion of members can take part?
And that’s it – we got now to the two main reasons to establish online votings: flexibility and allowing participation to all the party members – comfortably and cheap. Keeping up with 21st century, some might add. But on the other hand there stand many concerns – obviously – electronic voting can be tempered with and how can you find out then, what were the real votes? On the topic, I recommend you to watch this document shot for HBO, which features activists in the US fighting against insecure election system – which was closed-source and even the autorithies were not allowed to look into the source code, because of the ”trade secret”!
But let’s get back to Germany… there were actually many propositions at this huge gathering of Pirates, some of which offered voting, which was transparent, but on the other hand the voter lost their right of secret vote. Some proposed continuous voting system, where the party could react pretty fast, but if you think about it for a moment – that would keep all the party members in a constant stress. Because then you never know, whether something important comes up and so that you must pretty often check the voting system or keep some kind of voting calendar.
To be continued… tomorrow I will unfold, how online voting actually works in some Pirate parties around Europe and tell you how this ended up for now for the German Pirates. Stay tuned!