Pirate politics aren't just for hackers

A strong showing in Berlin suggests Pirates parties may be an emerging political force

Dave Morris/Flickr

The Pirate party of Germany stunned the European political establishment last week by capturing 8.9 per cent of the vote in the Berlin state elections. Fifteen pro-hacker Pirates are now sitting in the local legislature.

Are we going to see more hooded sweatshirts and neon overalls in politics? Perhaps. As many as 18 European and North American countries (including Canada) have officially registered Pirate Parties, with Pirates holding office in five of them. While our own nascent Pirate party has yet to break through to the mainstream, it might be wise to keep an eye on it. In fact, Pirate politics across the globe deserve attention. Here’s why:

Pirates are polygonal.

The Pirate party worldwide is no longer a one-issue protest movement pulling for the right to download V for Vendetta. It speaks to a slew of digital issues that establishment parties scarcely comprehend, ranging from privacy, through to intellectual property, broadband access and data retention. Some in the mainstream see these as crime issues. To others they are about trade and economic development. Only Pirates recognize them for what they are: a question of civil rights.

Pirates aren’t partisan.

Pirate party positions draw promiscuously from the libertarian right as well as the socialist left. Pirates simultaneously support de-regulation of the Internet and I.P and free public transportation for all. While this may be hard to reconcile for dyed-in-the-wool ideologues on either end of the right-left divide, it resonates strongly with millions of disenfranchised would-be-voters who have no use for the traditional political spectrum.

Pirates are pleasant. 

While their steampunk garb and cryptic t-shirt slogans may suggest a surly temperament, journalists have discovered that Pirate politicians are remarkably personable and better yet, candid. Much of their appeal to Berliners stemmed from the breath of fresh air they brought to a stuffy political process.

Pirates are practical.

With fluency in computer engineering and game theory, Pirates see politics as just another gameable system. Establishment parties routinely miss the point of the Internet, using it as if it were just another pipe to cram their message through. But Pirate parties stand the best chance of radically upsetting the political process through technology.

If the Pirate movement worldwide can avoid having its issues bootlegged by mainstream parties, it may settle into a welcome role of constant agitation.  Here’s a parallel: Elizabeth May will never be PM, but it’s nice to have her in Ottawa, making life uncomfortable for her fellow MPs when it comes to environmental issues.

Perhaps there’s room in Parliament for a geek or two as well.

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