Saturday, May 12, 2012

“Power to the People” Reemerges in Germany

Mine is the generation that chanted “Power to the People” in response to the American military presence in Vietnam and a general recognition that large sectors of the population (women being a major example) were being deprived of equal rights. It was an age of considerable irritation. However, with the election of Richard Nixon as President of the United States, it seemed as if that irritation was anesthetized, rather than addressed.

It is thus interesting to see that “the principle of the thing” has resurfaced, just not in the United States. The new manifestation is the rise of the Pirate Party in several European countries. A BBC News report by Stephen Evans covering the recent conference of the Pirate Party in Germany has conferred a certain element of legitimacy on the movement, even if the report seemed to say more about the celebratory (i. e. party) atmosphere, rather than the practice of politics. Nevertheless, “power to the people” was clearly a driving force behind those practices. However, I think it was this quote from Matthias Schrade that escalated the Pirate Party above the protests of my own generation:
We offer what people want. People are really angry at all the other parties because they don't do what politicians should do. We offer transparency, we offer participation. We offer basic democracy.
If we can use a noun as general as “people,” we are talking about a population base that is not particularly interested in governing. They have their own things to do. This is why the world continues to look at our Constitution as a blueprint for not only the concept of representative government but also the nuts and bolts required to implement that concept. To the extent that we can talk about failures of governments, those failures can be traced back to the fact that those chosen as representatives by the electorate reject the tacit obligation to actually represent the voters in favor of representing those with stronger (read financial) powers to influence, exercised in the lobbies of the building in which they are supposed to be doing the work of government. In other words “transparency” may be the most important noun in the above quote.

There has been a lot of talk about the failure of the concept of a nation-state. This seems misplaced. The real question is whether the exercise of representation will always be limited to that 1% targeted by the Occupy movements. In the spirit of those Occupy movements, the Pirate Party is trying to restore representation to the 99%. Their methods, like any other methods, deserve scrutiny; but, if we fall back on a knee-jerk rejection of their basic goal, then we may as well accept the likelihood that we have lost any hope of representation at any level of government.

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