Using hope not fear, individuals can build a brighter collective future


Picture of Birgitta Jónsdóttir
Birgitta Jónsdóttir

Birgitta Jónsdóttir is a poetitian and member of the Icelandic Parliament for the Pirate Party

Being political has nothing to do with political parties. To be political is to have opinions. Political parties always begin as communities of like-minded individuals – people who share values, goals and opinions. But problems come when these communities become ideological establishments that are no longer communities of equals but classic and rather old-fashioned hierarchies.

My own political movement, the Pirate Party, has been struggling to define its place on the spectrum of traditional politics. We include people from across this spectrum, going beyond labels of Right and Left that do not apply to today’s world. In this regard the Pirate Party is like Iceland’s Women’s List party, which was founded in 1983 to advance women’s rights in legislation and pave the way for more women in parliament. Once the party had achieved its main objectives it merged with other parties, in 1999, to form the Social Democratic Alliance. Some Women’s List members left during the merger because they felt that their agenda was holistic rather than exclusively leftist.

Like the Women’s List we have a horizontal internal structure. The aim is to reach consensus on issues rather than rule by (often narrow) democratic majorities. There is no Left and Right, but right or wrong. We want to offer an alternative that puts the focus on human rights in the digital era, and how to maintain and structure these rights in a totally different world order.

We want to offer an alternative that puts the focus on human rights in the digital era

Young people are crucial to this alternative vision. Global voter turnout indicates that there are very few parties that appeal to young people, yet this is the age group that overwhelmingly supports us. We find that young people want to be engaged, but in a different way to older people. This work requires more direct engagement and empowerment – often defined as direct democracy.

But it still requires alliance-building and collaboration with others, whether formal or informal, around core issues. The big issues are those of progressive and evolutionary change, the change we must undertake to save our democracies and even humanity from a bleak future of the ‘corpocracy’ where human rights are never as important as the right to make profit by any means.

Our alternative future – perhaps the only way to save democracy – is based on the understanding that we are connected, not divided, and that when it comes to our communities and societies we cannot free ourselves from our responsibilities. Not long ago in Scandinavia, most people understood that the system was not a separate hostile entity but something of which they themselves were part. If you cheated the system, you were cheating yourself and your community. More positively, if you put effort into improving the system you were benefiting yourself and your community. This is perhaps less an ideology, more common sense.

It is clear that not everybody wants the same. We see divisions everywhere, between races, religions, nations, political persuasions and generations. But these divisions serve to keep us fighting among ourselves and prevent us organising ourselves to achieve the dignity and justice for which we yearn, and to hold powerful people to account.

We need to realise when systems are becoming alien and outdated

So how do we do this? Laws are the tools for this job, but we need to ensure that people believe the law has their interests at heart. We must invent ways to make laws more resilient and functional, using the current framework to do so. We must also reimagine our values in a fast-paced world but acknowledge when it is impossible to keep up with rapid change using the current framework. We need to be honest and understand what needs to change and how we see those changes and values in the future.

We need to cut through both the complexity and the seemingly easy solutions. We need an inclusive story that embraces the idea that democracy demands our care and attention, and that freedoms are never to be taken for granted. We need to realise when systems are becoming alien and outdated and have the courage to shed the old world and build something new – something that reflects our values, and to which we feel we can truly belong.

Individuals can and must change the world – but we need to connect to each other to do this. We need to spend less time analysing problems – we all know what’s wrong – and more time on solutions. This is a collective challenge: if individuals spend half an hour each day thinking of possible answers I believe that we can collectively fix problems – especially if this process is underpinned by a strong media, free access to information, the right to privacy, direct democracy, social engagement and accountability. Under these conditions, we can go beyond the old ideologies and create, together, a wise and compassionate blueprint for the future.

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