The Grand Experiment: German Pirate Party Attempts to Reinvent Politics, Part 1

May 2nd, 2012

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Sven Becker, Dirk Kurbjuweit, Peter Müller, Marcel Rosenbach and Merlind Theile, April 25, 2012.

Germany’s Pirate Party has gone from a tiny group of hackers to a significant force in an astoundingly short amount of time. Its growing pains are obvious to all, but the party could succeed in fundamentally changing German politics. First it must agree on what it stands for.  

Now she knows what it’s like. Now she knows what politics feels like. It can hurt, and it can be extremely draining. On Thursday evening, Marina Weisband decided she had had enough. She cancelled a television appearance and checked herself in to Berlin’s Charité Hospital feeling faint and dizzy.

By then Weisband, party manager of the Pirate Party, was already familiar with the new rigors of politics and the challenges presented by her own party. She had been in the eye of a shitstorm and had been rudely berated online, all because she had written things that others didn’t like.

Last Thursday evening Weisband, 24, became acquainted with the rigors of the old system. She was a guest on a talk show hosted by Michel Friedman, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who accused the Pirates of providing a political home to “Nazis, racists and anti-Semites” — about the worst possible insult in German politics … //

… Pirate Communication:

Yet, it isn’t so easy to revitalize a 63-year-old system, especially one that has also proven to be successful in many respects. It defends itself, but more than anything it absorbs challengers. Adversaries will be subsumed and changed, not the other way around. And that is precisely where we are today. Will the Pirates succeed in changing the system, or is the system changing the Pirates?

Their tools are the Internet and the computer, which they use to develop their policies. To understand the Pirates, it’s important to understand how they communicate with one another.

Their system, such as it is, can be illustrated by the case of Christopher Lauer, a 27-year-old member of the legislature in the city-state of Berlin. Recently, he came up with the idea of extending the terms of party leaders from one year to two, arguing that the party needs continuity in its leadership. The proposal will be put up for a vote at the party convention this weekend.

Lauer, though, wants to know what the Pirates think about his proposal before that, and he wants a recommendation from the grassroots to take to the convention. To that end, he uses the Liquid Feedback voting software to introduce his motion. Party members who have registered are entitled to vote.

The discussion takes place simultaneously on a Pirate Pad, an online document to which everyone can contribute. Lauer also promotes his proposal on Twitter, where he currently has 14,000 followers. Marina Weisband immediately retweets his idea to her own followers, of which she has 25,000. In this way, all it takes are a few clicks before Lauer’s idea reaches the majority of the party base. (full text).

Part 2: A Never-Ending Debate;
Part 3: Hacking Its Way to the Top;
Part 4: In Search of a Coherent;
Part 5: The Establishment’s View.

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