Christian Engström: Political Activism [Pirate Visions]

Christian Engström: Political Activism [Pirate Visions]

The first Pirate to be elected as a representative anywhere in the world is the guest author of this post which talks about political activism. Christian Engström was elected to the European Parliament in 2009 and made a big impact in the international pirate community. 

These articles are part of the weekly series ‘Pirate Visions‘ from various prominent international pirates. We asked them to write as individuals and not in their official capacities in their party or organisation. We hope you would like to join us in discussing the future direction for Pirates internationally by commenting on this article, sharing it and reflecting upon what the author is saying.

—— The Pirate Party movement is born out of political activism. Before Rick Falkvinge started the first Pirate Party in 2006, there had already been many activists and activist groups, fighting for freedom on the Internet in various ways. Myself, I became an Internet activist in 2004, working with the activist organisation FFII to defeat an EU directive that would have legalised software patents (which would have been bad for both competition and freedom on the internet). Others have their roots in other organisations, and other issues related to preserving freedom on the Internet and in society. Yet others have started out as activists within a Pirate Party. But we are all activists at heart. As political parties in our respective countries, we take part in elections with the aim of gaining representation in parliaments and other democratically elected bodies. But whether we win or lose in elections, the core of our day-to-day work is the issue driven activism. When we have managed to get representatives elected to a parliament or other body, this is a great help, since an election victory means both tangible resources and better access to decision makers. But when we have not been successful in elections, the task is still the same: to develop sensible policies for our society in the Information Age, and to spread our ideas to other politicians and political actors, in order to patiently build political majorities. Political activism is part of our DNA, and we know that we can win victories that way. The FFII won the battle over the Software Patents Directive in 2005, through one of the first truly pan-European Internet based political grass roots campaigns. And when the European Parliament rejected the controversial ACTA trade agreement in July 2012, it was because hundreds of thousands of activists had taken to the streets all over Europe to protest against it. This provided the outside pressure that made it possible to create the required majority inside the parliament to win. This term in the European Parliament, we have Julia Reda (@Senficon) elected as a representative for the German Pirate Party. But she will need help from activists all over Europe to be successful. For the majority of politicians from the old political parties, they start paying real attention to an issue only when they feel that there is genuine public interest in it, and that they might risk losing votes if they get on the wrong side of the debate. But when that happens, thanks to political activism on the outside, we can win. In the near future, there are a number of very important Pirate issues that we know will appear on the political agenda. We know that the European Parliament will work on copyright reform, but if it will be for the better or worse, will to a large extent depend on the level of activism among European citizens. The same is true for data protection, which is on the table right now, and where we need strong EU legislation to protect our private lives from both Big Data multinationals and our own governments. We need to stop the proposed TTIP trade agreement, which is ACTA on acid. Blanket data retention, which European Court of Justice has declared illegal and in breach of fundamental rights, must stop. And we must make sure that opportunistic politicians do not succeed in turning the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo into a government attack on free speech, as they are already trying to. Terrorists can never seriously threaten free speech, but governments can. Unfortunately, it is up to us ordinary citizens to make sure that they don’t. These are just a few of the burning Pirate issues that are on the table right now, and more will appear with time. This is something we know for certain. The Internet and the new information technology is the biggest thing that has happened to mankind since the Printing Press. It is perfectly natural that this results in new political issues that need to be resolved. The Pirate Party is the only political party that has this insight as its starting point. We see the risk that the new technology leads us into a dystopian surveillance society that nobody wants. But we also see the fantastic opportunities for creativity and new solutions that the new technology offers. Never before have there been such fantastic tools for spreading culture, knowledge, and democracy, and for bringing people together. Our job is to make sure that it is this positive vision of the future that becomes reality, and not the other one. Although the prospects sometimes may look bleak, we know from first-hand experience that by working together as citizens and activists, we can produce miracles and win political victories. We shall continue to do so. We Pirates believe in the future.

Portratit of Christian Engström

Christian Engström

Christian was born in Stockholm, Sweden 9 February 1960. He is a programmer, activist and politician. He worked for the  Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) where he was an activist fighting against software patents. He was elected a Member of the European Parliament in 7 June 2009 and  served until 30 June 2014. He was deputy leader of the Pirate Party of Sweden from 2008 to 2009.             Featured image:  CC BY-NC-SA, Pirate Times – modified from original CC BY-NC-SA, Daniela Hartmann