I have never considered myself to hold enough interest in being a politico. While I have made great strides in participating in and facilitating the voting process for young people, the government has been something I have mostly feared rather than revered. With the never ending augmentation of copyright and fair use in regards to intellectual property and the arts on the internet, it is impossible to avoid developing a personal stance on the complicated issues of these policy topics.
In the fall of 2008 I was an integral member of the Drexel Votes program at Drexel University. This was a collaborative initiative to increase student voter turn-out and to exploit the awareness of mainstream and alternative sources for exposition to political affairs, platforms and election procedures. It was a successful venture that boasted 70% voter turn-out of students registered to vote.
At the University Library where I worked at the time, we used innovative and approachable techniques to get students registered, provide them with materials about the election, and to encourage them to make their voices heard. I worked under the guide of the Library Director, the late great Jane Bryan, and together with the library staff we utilized the internet as a valuable tool to communicate with the student body in order to set up this remarkable success.
After the baffling horror of the previous presidential election, it was a personal battle for me to take up this fight for young people to have a vital effect on the system. It was far from easy, but armed with an arsenal of a student committee, a talented young graphic designer and technophiles, we managed to get these kids involved in an exciting way. Blog posts, Twitter updates, Facebook invites…this was the language we used to communicate the importance of democracy.
Now that I am Berlin, having virtually ostracized myself from the political system in The United States, something wonderfully unprecedented has caught my attention in the normally sedate albeit publicly important politics of Germany. Enter the Piraten Partei, a new-ish political party that spent the summer mounting their campaign to gain seats in the parliament.
In mid August, the signs for each party’s candidates started to be posted in their corresponding districts (the large parties nominated candidates and they were responsible for accumulating votes in their neighborhoods in an effort to gain total votes for the party at large, not just individually). The signs were all very German, seemingly restricted by specifications of size, material, content and the locations where they could be posted. The dominate parties were most prominently displayed – The CDU (Christian Democratic Party), The SPD (Social Party of Democrats) and the “liberal” Green Party. The signs were simple in design, having a picture of the respective candidate, their party affiliation, and not much else, all in monochromatic and stoic colors with simple, nondescript font.
One day walking through the edgy, more alternative neighborhood of Kreuzberg I saw a sign that didn’t look like the others. It bore a picture of a young, bald, smiling white man. The poster looked as though it had been altered via Photoshop. There were bright hues of blue and yellow and it seemed alien to the brethren banners from the other parties. The smile on this man seemed exaggerated and a little bit jarring in a way, and it was very eye catching. Below some quote in German (that I struggled to translate) was the a logo for Piraten Partei in which the “P” in “pirate” cleverly took the shape of a pole and flag, making a bold reference statement of staking their claim on the more conservative stance of the popular parties.
Soon I was engaging in conversations about politics, much to my amazement and not so much to my chagrin. The posters were popping up everywhere and word of their campaign was all over the news. Preliminary polls put them just below the percentage they needed to win seats in the parliament, and it seemed as though the public was fascinated in both positive and negative ways.
It was no surprise to me that their party won the percentage they needed to gain seats in the parliament. They had a cunning yet obvious way to solicit the untapped voting community in the city. Berlin is known for its slant towards many things not commonly German. There is a long tradition of welcoming the nontraditional and the vibrant arts culture matched with the burgeoning young, immigrant community is a large part of why so many are looking for a change in the way the government works. They had a strong presence on the web and had an overall appeal to young people in their advertising.
The Piraten Partei bares reference to their main political platform that revolves around internet privacy and protection and their goal to develop free internet services for the city. Many of their issues are extremely modern and center around technology and social issues, though they are being criticized for their current lack of knowledge regarding bigger economic issues and the fact that they are all a bunch of young white guys with not much representation of diversity. During interviews with the media they unabashedly claim to know little or nothing about the current political climate of Germany (one candidate said, “I don’t know” when asked about the national debt) and many feel as though this naivete is a hindrance and a bonus for them to be a prominent entity to develop new policies in Berlin.
I find all of this so intriguing. As an artist with a huge web presence, it is important for me to be aware of the rules and regulations regarding the dissemination of information and intellectual property on the internet. I am shocked when I speak to an artist (by now, probably the largest percentage of employees in Berlin) and they do not have a website though they spend over half of their time online.
I am not yet a citizen of Germany and I am torn as to how I feel about this Pirate Party, but I know that the way they are shaking things up (though the party is represented in other international cities) could be a part of big problems and solutions that are imminent here in the hapless disregard for a concrete plan for Berlin’s future.