Archive for the ‘Demoex’ Category

Self-criticism

June 28, 2010

linnea

Linnea Nilsson, co-founder of Demoex, evaluated the experiment at the University of Stockholm two years after it started. She pointed out the weakness of our democracy model: Visitors must feel that they get something out of Demoex, such as easy access to relevant information. It requires a political debate worthy of the name. The naive idea that local politicians would participate in the experiment and maintain the quality of the debates failed. Bad for us, because the information is crucial both for the usability and for the decisions.

Citizens in Vallentuna have not shown much interest. Only between 5-15 persons use to decide how Demoex will vote. (At most 41 persons.) The basic idea fails if people choose not to participate. One reason for the low voter participation might be that Demoex enters the process too late to affect the policy. Democracy does not work as intended. Issues are decided in advance, before they come to the City Council.

More people would certainly take part if Demoex had more influence. On the other hand one might ask what is most important – the number of voters, or that people have the opportunity to participate and vote? Demoex gives the opportunity, but a few uses it. The fewer who are voting, the more valuable is each individual vote. The decrease of political power of one person is mirrored by the same increase of influence of another person. Maybe we have to accept that some issues have a lower participation in order to empower the engaged people?

Repression, Panic and Euphoria

June 21, 2010

Brian Winston studied how new communication technologies have been received by Society. He investigated telephone, radio, television, computers, satellites and the Internet. Winston found two phenomena that regularly recurred:

  • The political potential was repressed
  • The technological change was dramatized

communication_technologies

According to Winston new forms of communication always integrates in Society so that they enhance, or at least not seriously affect, the fundamental power relations. Repression of the political potential means that rules and manners changes to preserve the old systems, in practice through increased bureaucracy and control.

The technological change is also dramatized. New technology appears either as plunging the society straight down into the pit, or as a savior solving all the problems. Descriptions are either black or white – all nuances are absent. Railroad threatened to tear the soul in pieces or it would link the world together. Radio could either seduce teenagers with it’s nasty music or educate the common people. Television was either a Boob Tube or a University at home. Internet is the world’s largest library, or a gathering place for shady terrorists, crooks and pedophiles.

Since Demoex is a product of new communication technology, we have experienced both of these phenomena. The radical potential was repressed by the other parties. They refused to participate so that the experiment could not be implemented as intended. The potential was also repressed by imposing silence, both in the City Council, the public debate and in the high school where it started.

The change was also dramatized. Demoex became a hype. Newspapers wrote a lot when the experiment was new, which created expectations impossible to live up to. When the new technology falls into the everyday life we find that Demoex has not been the core of the local political life as intended. On the other hand, the experiment did not become a den of racists and populists as the politicians feared. The threats and promises were exaggerated, both panic and euphoria are unfounded.

Decentra-laziness

June 17, 2010

Democracy make no demands. You don’t even need to vote to benefit from it. Why be politically active when you can let others do the work and still gain from the benefits? The elected officials handle the assignment for a little payment. This is how every company works, but there is a big difference: We can choose to stay outside the stock-market, but not outside the society.

hammock

We are involved in the society, whether we like it or not. Political decisions do affect us. Some decisions are so vital to us that we should be entitled to influence their outcome.

Most of us are interested in a few things. If direct democracy is balancing on the scale between the political blocs, we will take part only in issues that we care about. Because we have different interests, the “laziness” will strengthen the minority groups. The involvement and political awareness will eventually increase, but we will still choose between the issues from the political smorgasbord. This will lead to a decentralization of political power.

“QUIET!”

June 16, 2010

On Vallentuna Municipality Web is a poor tab called “Democracy”. There are no links to Demoex site or any politician’s blog on the municipality’s website. Election day is in September 19. I think blog publishing would be a good way to inform voters on the political alternatives before the election. Therefore I put to a written question the City Council on June 14: Are we going to use a blog publishing service at the Democracy tab before the election?

I directed the question to the Municipal Mayor. Two days later I call him to check that he has got it. “Yes, but I will not answer the question because it was submitted too late”, he says. I get upset, because the municipality’s statute says that a question should be answered in the same meeting that it is provided. The next City Council is not until September 6, then it is too late to start blogging before the election. Therefore it is desirable to receive a response at this meeting.

City Council meeting on 14 June begins. Chairman would usually ask “Are there any questions?” Instead, he says:
– And we have no questions.
– Yes we have, I say
– No, it came too late, he replies.

I tell the audience that Demoex have submitted a written question. Chairman interrupts and say that I am not allowed to ask the question. When I start to argue why it should be answered at this meeting, the Chairman shouts “QUIET!”.

I was not even allowed to ask the question! Later on at the same meeting I complain to the elective dictatorship in the council, and takes the fact that I was not allowed to ask a question earlier as an example. Once again the Chairman tells me to be quiet.

Smith_Mugabe

Political repression means that a stronger party unfairly exercise its power to prevent a weaker party from participating. After ten years in prison under Ian Smith‘s racist regime, Robert Mugabe took over in Zimbabwe with the Socialist party ZANU-PF. He was greeted as a liberator. Thirty years later with unbroken power holding from Mugabe, his opponents are repressed in a similar way as he was.

Long, uninterrupted possession of power easily leads to systematic repression of dissidents. My point is that political repression is a structurally shortcoming of the representative democratic system. The problem does not depend on the ideology of the ruling party.

Madness or Development?

June 10, 2010

In his work The History of Madness Michael Foucault demonstrates how madness has been separated out as “deviant from the actual discourse” and how different times and cultures have different classification of madness. What counts as insane is ultimately a question of power, according to Focault.

foucault_liggande

Demoex was counted as madness in a similar way. To my great grief and astonishment Demoex became taboo to talk about at my work, Vallentuna 2:nd High, where the experiment once started. I  looked forward to train my students in argumentation and let them take part in the internet debates. I thought Demoex was a good thing both for the students and the school. Where else in the world can all students vote in the City Council from the age of 16? In Stockholm’s highly competitive educational market this must be a dream marketing argument. I took for granted that the school should use Demoex in education and marketing, but instead the former headmaster told me to be quiet. Demoex must not be associated with Vallentuna 2:nd High. I was not allowed to talk about the experiment in my teaching. My boss warned me.

mentalsjukhus

Our Core Values in Vallentuna are “Commitment, Equal Dignity and Development”. Demoex fit pretty good with this values, but it was forbidden to talk about the experiment. Tragic, but understandable. We had no ambition to change the politics, we just wanted to try to change the political system, to mix direct- and representative democracy. But our opponents saw Demoex as a radical populist party. We failed to explain that changing the political system doesn’t mean changing politics. Demoex might be dangerous to dictators, but not to the popularly elected politicians in Vallentuna, Sweden.

Killing a Public Debate

June 6, 2010

Demoex replied in the local newspaper that we did not want to replace the representative democracy. On the contrary, we want to give politicians greater audience and democratic legitimacy. We told that our idea is an open political debate at the internet where the public can participate. The best politicians will then become highly respected by virtue of their expertise and convincing argumentation, we wrote.

It failed because of the existing Nash equilibrium mentioned earlier. The governing parties did not want to cooperate with us. Too bad, because we needed to involve politicians to carry out the experiment. Demoex is a virtual council meeting, waiting for debaters from all parties. The leading parties are keen to have an active dialogue with residents in the municipality – at least they say so. Demoex offer just that! We hoped that the important decisions would become better entrenched among the citizens thereby.

empty_parliament

We wrote that a problem with representative democracy is that coalitions tend to eliminate the principle of majority by iterated voting. When a coalition have 60 percent of the mandates, and 60 percent of the coalition stands behind a decision, only a minority – 36 percent – actually supports it. When the liberal-conservative coalition in Vallentuna negotiates it often leads to a minority decision. Leading politicians “bouncing ideas” is not so innocent as it may sound.

Following our response they remained silent. The leading politicians probably realized that they had nothing to gain from the debate, so they decided to quiet down Demoex instead. They held that democracy works well in Vallentuna. We thought it could work better and we wanted to continue the debate, but they did not answer. We asked why? They did not answer. We were unable to debate alone, so the vital discussion about democracy just died out.

graves

Openness and Business

June 6, 2010

During the first years of Demoex in politics the public debate became more open. We wrote letters to the editor in a local newspaper and complained to democratic deficits and the leading politicians responded to us.

This was in a period of vast privatization unprecedented in the municipality’s history. Inspired by neoliberalism the idea was to sell out public property. The heating plant was sold, the sewage system was incorporated, and so on. The residents did not get information until the deals where basically done.

Business between public domains and private companies are not easy, and they should not be. Laws protect against corruption by requiring openness. Transparency is a core of democracy and a precondition for citizen’s participating.

When the municipal center buildings were for sale for the first time attentive citizens stopped the deal. At the next attempt the politicians negotiated in secret and remained silent until the last moment to avoid unnecessary attention. The silence did not only exclude the public, but also Demoex.

for_sale

“Maybe business work this way, but silence and lack of information hurts the democracy”, we wrote in the local newspaper. We wanted the governing politicians to inform the citizens and argue for their privatization proposal. “Put all the cards on the table before the deal, and let us have a public debate worthy of the name”, we said.

The governing politicians responded in the newspaper. They admitted that they where discussing and “trying out different options” before deciding. “But to say that we cover up, or not put all cards on the table, is almost a bit silly”, the leading politicians said. “Moreover, we welcome an open dialogue with voters, but we don’t want to replace the representative democracy as Demoex want”, they argued.

Demoex is a direct democratic injection into the system of representative democracy that in fact presupposes other parties. The leading politicians did not want to understand the concept of Demoex, they tried to make us foolish instead. A good thing came with it – their misunderstanding forced us to reply and explain, and so the public debate continued.

A Civil Rights Movement

June 3, 2010

The ambition of Demoex was to complement representative democracy with an element of direct democracy. We wanted to examine whether it is possible to increase the degree of democracy. We felt that the technology has reached far beyond the political system. Using the Internet, we wanted to create a more open and caring local society. If this can be done peacefully in a secure Swedish municipal, there is still a hope we thought.

During the first term of office, we worked to find a suitable model for participatory democracy. Gradually we started to perceive Demoex as a civil rights movement. The main idea was to give every citizen extended suffrage – the right to represent himself on every single political issue.

rostratt_demo

In 1914 people demonstrated in Sweden for their right to exercise power and influence in society. Ninety years later, here we go again. On May 1, 2004 we organized a demonstration in Vallentuna for universal suffrage in point of issues. Our current voting rights includes all adult persons, but they are not entitled to vote on the issues they want. It is only at one time every four years. By universal suffrage of the issues we wanted to give people the opportunity to vote in any political issue that concern them. Inspired by the Direct Democracy Manifesto by the Israeli writer Aki Orr we made a big banner which read:

EVERY CITIZEN –  EVERY POLITICAL DECISION – ONE VOTE

Close to a Crash

May 30, 2010

The first year with Demoex in the politics was not only a success. One thing made me extra worried. The company Vivarto that made our democracy forum had economical problems. The programmer wasn´t paid in time so he did no work and the system became unstable. Reliability fell and sometimes we couldn´t access the site. Some members couldn´t vote in a City Council meeting because of the problems, which was almost a disaster.

vivarto

I felt a strong loyalty with Mikael Nordfors, the founder of Vivarto. He inspired us with a radically different way of thinking and sponsored us in the election campaign. Without Mikael Nordfors, no Demoex. But without a stable democracy forum, we could not work!

But there was an alternative. Another company, Membro, delivered the same services with another program. They offered us to tryout their democracy forum for a free evaluation. We used both the forums for three months to compare. Then we voted on which we would continue with and Membro won. Shortly afterwards the entire database in the old system crashed, so it felt like we made the right decision in the last minute.

The Trap

May 25, 2010

At one point Demoex endured much criticism from the other parties. Our representative asked for reconsideration of an issue despite the fact that a clear majority had voted for the proposal on the website. The question was about whether the municipality would build a McDonald’s restaurant and a Lidl store next to the high school? When two or more issues merges into one, the number of possible answers reduces. This semantic trap is a trick often seen in politics. “Do you want to stay alive and give me all your money?” If you are forced to answer yes or no, then you will make at least one bad decision.

lidl&donken

When Demoex was new so the system had some childhood deceases. Initially the option to ask for reconsideration did not exist. We could only vote yes or no. A clear majority voted in favor of the Lidl + McDonald’s trap. The debate participants had scored the for- and counterarguments. The strongest for-argument wanted a Lidl store but was reluctant to McDonald’s, and the strongest counter-argument was against McDonald’s only. The trap forced us to vote either for or against both, which did not correspond with the members intentions, as we interpreted it.

Therefore we sought to recall the case, demanding that the issues would be dealt with separately. After this departure from our principles, we proposed a motion to separate the issues on the political agenda. To bake up several issues in the same case is to cut our options and thereby to diminish our democratic power. The council finally said yes to this motion. We also changed our constitution and gave the representative the right to insist on reconsideration to avoid similar situations in future.