Are you a ‘participationist’?

A piece i wrote last week, that could also resonate with the Edgeryders community i think :slight_smile: let’s discuss

What if the future of politics wasn’t a more radicalized left and right, but a movement with the task of rewriting the rules of the game, without needing to play the game?

Welcome to the idea of the participationist, an alternative way to look at politics that is resonating through different civic movements around the world. With this thought exercise I will be funnelling impressions into a more streamlined building block for people who are passionate by politics but are frustrated by the status quo of a dualistic political system. It doesn’t matter if you are in Montreal complaining about the ‘uncoordinated traffic works’, in Rotterdam finding the investments in ‘de markthal’ unnecessary or in Rouen hearing about a latest talent. Most probably this is the same in almost every big occidental city. So maybe it isn’t the politicians incapacity but an overall problem in the way we look at societal problems.

A trust crisis in all European Democracies

First we have to tackle the elephant in the room: the majority of Europeans don’t trust their politicians. When looking at the level of trust, only Denmark scores above 50%, where some countries go as low as 18%. It’s doesn’t matter if the country was ruled by the left, centre or right, there is simply a giant fatigue in our democracy. Every now and then a political party claims to be the solution, but none of them deliver. Why: because they are still playing by the same old rulebook.

It’s important to understand this principle of rulebook, one held by every politician to succeed in the world of politics. Don’t see it as a literal book, but a group of unwritten rules, codes and internal structures that make politics what it is today: hierarchical, opaque and centralized. That is why we see more and more legacy politicians running (sons, daughters, husbands and wives of…), because they have direct access to the best version of the rulebook. It becomes also clearer, that being a politician is a career move, stretching from early years of volunteering till your pension. There is no time for a vocation of a couple of years fighting for one topic, because understanding the rulebook became so complicated.

This creates an enclave only inhabited by the happy and initiated few. While our technology makes it easier to create decentralized and transparent platforms, our politicians are still holding on to old fashioned methods, where control of power and knowledge is the raison d’être of the political elites.

Classic politics are still playing at monopoly

But when looking back to the last couple of years, we as democratic people aren’t moving as fast as our technology is. We had a big economic crisis in 2008 and haven’t had the feeling the politics have changed for a better regulation of the banks. On a more local level we have still scandals popping up like popcorns on a hot plate every time there is an election near.

You could argue that we had a bad generation of politicians, and that next time it will be better but that would be a bit short sighted. What if it was the democratic system that was rigged because it got to hard intertwined with a neo-liberal ethos? We created such enormous money hungry beast, that they become too big to fail (Banks again, anybody?) It’s like our politicians are playing the same monopoly game again and again hoping that at the end of the game the winner would be somebody else then the one controlling the most power (=money). Could it be that it’s the rules that are intended to always go towards the cash grab? So when will our politicians start playing a game like ‘choose your happiness (Soft Revolution 2015) instead of replaying monopoly each time. And don’t see this as leftist critique towards liberal economics, also all leftist parties are playing the same economical driven game but they are too naïve to understand that they could never win the game anymore without cheating. We don’t need more ‘buying power’, or simply put better wages and less taxes, we need an ethical correct system.

Introducing a new game

Well here is a new game, or even better: the creation of a new rulebook from where you can play any game you want. This is where the participationists come into play. In the last couple of years we saw organizations popping up willing to change the way we play the game, from some groups of the Pirate Party, citizen lists (Madrid and Barcelona being the most well-known) to Brussels based groups as We Brussels and Civic Innovation Network. While the bigger ones had problems changing the rules and being often institutionalized, the smaller ones are learning from it and bringing new insights to the table. Here are a few core values shared by many of these groups

  • Transparency: a true politician has to be there for his constituents, instead of trusting that he / she will be honest, create rules where it is impossible to hide political decisions. A true person of the people needs to understand that her/his role isn’t one of anonymity but he/ she is a representation of a group of people.

  • Decentralisation of power: when power comes into play, the chances of corruption become bigger, that’s a correlation shown multiple times in this article. So why are we still giving politics the benefit of the doubt while we know centralised power creates escalation. Let us work on systems that don’t need this centralized power, but gives lots of people opportunities to flourish in societal engagement.

  • Shared knowledge: Like transparency, shared knowledge is one of the fundaments for a more ethical politics. Knowledge is power, and centralised power creates unbalanced politics. So why would we be ok with closed knowledge. Politicians have to share their data, because their data serves society and shouldn’t be possible to use for political gain.

  • Longevity of projects, not of people: We should make it more difficult to create career politicians and invest in collective intelligence that could tackle long and complicated projects. The idea comes maybe from one person, but the determination to make it happen is better in an environment of collaboration instead of competition.

Where are the participationists?

We’re coming to it. The role of the particationists is to fight for this other way of politics, not by trying to get elected themselves, but by infusing the main ideas in the world of politics. Like the green movement did in the 70’s but without the error of willing to get into power too. The participationist will be a ‘sacrificed generation’ that will not run for a spot, but will push new rules and make it possible to create a new way of doing politics.


How will this infusing be done?

Hey @yannick, thank you for sharing this text - a lot of idealism in it. How do you see the starting point of the process? Do you imagine doing some small trials at first in Brussels maybe?

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I am under the impression @Yannick is doing small and bigger trials in Brussels, infusing these ideas in the political culture. He’s often involved in projects that include at least the local municipality, so lower level politics. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I see it.

Hello @johncoate, @natalia_skoczylas and @noemi

thanks for responding, Like Noemi already said, it is part of the trial and error mechanic i try to use in every sociatal project i do. Yes this text is quite idalistic, it was also more a trial intro learning about story telling ideas and thus injecting these principles and idea bubbles into others. So maybe it isn’t grounded in a concrete project, but i wanted to share it here to open further a dialogue because i think edgeryders is such a group that can create impact on bigger sociatal projects without falling into classical schemes of our current political hierarchie

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