When the first Pirate Party was founded, it was with the realization that activism alone had come to the end of the road. Everybody was discussing net liberty issues and how they were being restricted by the copyright industry – everybody except the politicians. We needed to take the fight to these politicians. But how?
Politicians had been condescending for years over net liberties. They received instructions on just how evil the net and everything around it was from their civil servants, who in turn were fed the state of the world by lobbyists who were walking the state department halls like children in the house.
At the same time, the debate on net liberties raged on everywhere else. In Sweden, we had the Piratbyrån (Pirate Bureau), which had been very successful in providing a counterpoint to the corporate spew-outs since 2003. They were also the people initially starting The Pirate Bay, which has survived its parent – the Pirate Bureau was decommissioned a couple of years back.
When the summer of 2005 came around, the Swedish politicians railroaded through yet another harshening of the copyright monopoly where downloading was criminalized (not just uploading), in what was seen as an attempt to safeguard old distribution channels against indie artists, all hell broke loose. This was discussed over family dinners, over coffee at work, at universities, between friends. And yet, politicians appeared to not even notice this was important to people.
This was utterly infuriating. How could the politicians so thoroughly miss that this discussion was happening everywhere? They’re usually the first to do the flip-waffle-and-flop dance over any issue that the public starts even whispering about.
The answer was twofold: lobbyism is powerful, and that people of the public had talked about the politicians, but not to the politicians. Specifically, and crucially, nobody had talked to the politicians in a way that threatened their job over the issue.
The key to seeing the route ahead was to realize that the politicians weren’t necessarily evil, but just didn’t have the time and energy to learn a completely new perspective to them. You had to motivate them.
Threatening their job over not understanding the issue turned out to be a most effective motivator in this aspect – one that was needed in parallel with activism that allowed the politicians to learn about the issues quickly.
Techdirt also addresses exactly this in a recent article, as they describe how lobbyists win over the public only if the public leaves walkover, but if the public does choose to engage, how votes beat lobbying every single time.
So the end conclusion is this: activism is necessary, because it drives discussion and learning, but it does not drive policy: on its own, it is not sufficient. At the end of the day, politicians must risk losing votes in order to care.
That’s why running for office and starting to just nibble at those votes has a tremendous effect in changing the world very quickly. You don’t need to be a politician – you can be a civil liberties activist running for office. In fact, that’s often even better.