Sarah van Liefferinge: We pirates should be the change we wish to see [pirate visions]

Sarah van Liefferinge: We pirates should be the change we wish to see [pirate visions]

Sarah van Liefferinge invites everyone on board to keep an eye on the horizon as politicians, while reminding us of what the pirate movement was started for.

These articles are part of the weekly series ‘Pirate Visions’ from different 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.


“Nobody is sure about the future. If succes was a certainty, the merit of trying would be insignificant.” – Multatuli, Dutch writer (1820 – 1887)

If predicting the future is impossible, and even undesirable, what can I then say about the future of the pirate movement? I’ll share my hopes and beliefs with you, for what they’re worth.

Political party or civil rights movement?

First of all, there’s the pirate party and there’s the pirate movement. For me the movement, based on the pirate ideology, is a lot more important than the party. The battle for civil rights and liberties, online as well as in real life, is the core of this movement. We strive for privacy, transparency, net neutrality and copyright reform, but also for dignity, freedom, equity and empowerment. Without a strong movement the party will die. In my opinion the party, as it is functioning today, is not our goal but merely a means. I don’t believe in party politics, since it strangles the life out of our democracies. I do believe a party comes in handy in times of elections. We participate in the game in order to hack politics. We want to make sure our voices are heard by the traditional leaders. But we should be careful and prevent party politics from hacking us. It is our task to reclaim and reframe words like ‘politics’ and ‘democracy’. We have to preserve our rebel souls, that’s what makes us pirates.

Be the change you wish to see

Prefigurative politics could be a way to safeguard our integrity. In short, this term refers to a political model where the goal and the means of the organization come together. It’s about ‘being the change you wish to see’. In this perspective, the party isn’t a means for achieving an idealized goal in the far future. It’s about how to make a radical change realistic and tangible by living it in the daily practice, here and now. That’s why I feel we shouldn’t waste too much time on writing statutes, electing leaders and building structures in order to copy traditional parties. We don’t have to fit in. We’re different, and that’s good. It is difficult to build something new when your brain and body are soaked with old ideas and conventions. So yes, we try, but far too often we fall back on ego and power plays, conflicting personal ambitions, inconsequences, voting for the sake of voting and sexism. I know all of us are trying, but I do feel we have to try harder. If we don’t succeed in being the change we wish to see, we make ourselves irrelevant.

Horizontalism and the commons

What about this prefiguration? It means the movement and the party should reflect one another. I believe in decentralized and horizontal structures, in bottom-up instead of top-down, in networks without power concentration, hierarchical structures or big bosses. What’s connecting the local and independent pirate units, is our shared ideology. The fundamentals are cooperation, sharing and trust. The commons are our playground. We can find inspiration in Greece and Kurdistan. In Greece, local direct democracies are rising up, providing health care, legal aid, schooling and food. In Kurdistan, people are working towards a democratic confederalism that’s transcending borders and ethnical, cultural and religious differences. Because you don’t believe the concept of the nation state, as we know it today, will still be around 50 years from now, do you?

Crisis = opportunity

We live in a time of crisis, which literally means ‘decision, turning point’ in ancient Greek. There have never been more wealth, safety and opportunities. But nevertheless inequality is rising, the surveillance states are putting us into invisible prisons, the planet has become one big waste dump and people are getting angrier and more indignant every day. It is our pirate duty to come up with fresh and hopeful alternatives for the 21st century. Digitization is changing our societies and our brains profoundly. We don’t have to provoke a revolution, it’s here already. This calls for radical new forms of politics, economy, governance and education.

Pirate alternatives for the 21st century

What are the key topics we have for setting out viable alternatives for the future?

1) Protection and expansion of the commons.

The commons belong to all of us (or none of us?) and we share the responsibility to preserve them. Examples of the commons are knowledge, science and culture, but furthermore everything the planet is offering us: forests and grasslands, fauna and flora, raw materials, the air we breathe and the water surrounding us. The cities  and villages we live in are also commons. And in my opinion, the youth of this world should also be seen as a common. The commons are being threatened by intellectual property rights, by pollution and by neglect. The concept of ownership has hollowed, not only the idea of the commons, but also the social fabric of our communities. The commons should be accessible for all of us and cannot be locked off for the few. As global citizens we have to fight to put the commons back where they belong: in the heritage of all of us.

2) Horizontalism and direct democracy.

If we want to break the powers of the ruling class and the corporate elite, we have to experiment with direct democracy and horizontalism. The idea is to create non-hierarchical social relationships within global movement networks. This requires free and empowered citizens, but also new forms of leadership. A leader is not a boss who gives orders, but someone who points out a direction in order to make an immobile crowd move. The best way to prevent power concentration, is to make sure leadership shifts accordingly to the talent or expertise required to do the job. The basic idea should be that of the wisdom of the crowd: together we achieve more.

3) Basic income and empowerment.

The current economic system and welfare state aren’t liberating us. We are slaves of work and income. Many of us are stuck in the rat-race. Others feel outcasted because of the high unemployment rates. We know robots and new technologies will only make things worse on the labor market. How do we get out of this messy situation? Through shorter workweeks, a Guaranteed Basic Income and a new economic paradigm. We’re done with endless growth, pointless job creation, consumerism and planned obsolescence. The economy of the future is about durability, entrepreneurship and creativity, about sharing and re-using, about cooperation and validation of voluntary work such as taking care of children and the elderly. It’s about empowerment instead of enslavement. We pirates could become an influential movement, giving direction to the politics, economy, ecology and societies of the 21st century. All aboard? Let’s continue our way: let’s do this.

Photo courtesy of Sarah van Liefferinge

Photo courtesy of Sarah van Liefferinge

Sarah Van Liefferinge is a Belgian pirate from Ghent. She joined the pirate movement in 2012. She works in education and follows up the integration of visually impaired youngsters. Her life motto’s are ‘sharing is caring’ and ‘we are one, one love!’.