Rick Falkvinge: “Why Are You Here?” Transcript

[The following is a transcript of Rick Falkvinge’s keynote speech at the 2011 Pirate Parties International General Assembly. It is edited slightly to improve readability, but is faithful to Rick’s intention. The original video can be found here.]

We’ve certainly come a long way. We’ve certainly come an enormous way since we first met in Vienna, Austria in 2007.

I’d like to dedicate this quite emotional closing keynote to one of the organisers of the 2007 event, who sadly is no longer with us. Florian Huffskey was the founder of the Austrian Pirate Party, and one of the most emotional and inspiring people I have ever had the privilege of getting to know.

So Florian, in loving memory.

Why are you here? Seriously! I mean, that’s a serious question – why are you here? Are you dumb? Are you stupid? Everybody knows how you change the world. We’ve all learnt that. You write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, and you’re happy if they publish it, and so you’ve done your little bit of changing the world. Who is out of their mind and actually goes to start a political party, and think they can accomplish something? Are you dumb?

Let me tell you why I’m here.

One hundred and twenty years ago, a couple of young activists thought it was unjust that according to the establishment you should obey the King and the Church. They thought that individuals had certain rights that the King and the Church really couldn’t trample on. So they started to form a movement, and at that point everybody demanded an answer of them: “Come on, you’ve got to take a stand here – do you prefer more to the King, or more power to the Church?”

But these people that were forming a political party – ‘liberals’ as they called themselves – said: “You don’t understand. We’re bringing new ideas to the table here. We’re going to form a political party and contest the elections.”

And the establishment went completely insane, saying: “You can’t form a political party just because you don’t want to obey the King! Are you out of your minds? You’re just spoilt brats who want everything for free!”

“Well,” they said. “It’s a little bit more complicated than that. Let us explain…”

And so, around the 1890s, Liberals made headway into many parliaments in Europe and established ideas like voting rights for all, and certain inalienable rights for individuals that hadn’t been there before.

That was a hundred and twenty years ago.

Fast forward 40 years, and a couple of young activists thought they saw something unjust in society. They started to think that maybe they had certain rights as workers that weren’t really respected and confirmed by the establishment. Maybe if they were organised they could get certain ideas through that were better for society. And at that point, the King and the Church were no longer opposite poles on the political spectrum. They had become ‘conservatives,’ and the liberals that appeared forty years ago were the new opposite.

So the establishment went to these new ‘politicians’ (as they dared call themselves!) and asked: “Okay, so, you gotta explain here. You gotta take a stand. Are you with the conservatives or the liberals?”

And the workers’ movement said: “Well, it’s not really that simple. We just want to bring new ideas.”

And when they finally founded a party, the establishment went absolutely insane, saying: “You can’t start a new party just because you want higher wages! Are you out of your minds? You can’t do that! You’re just spoilt brats who want everything for free!”

“Well,” they said. “It’s a little bit more complicated than that. Let us explain…”

That was eighty years ago. In the 1930s labour parties and social democratic parties came into parliaments pretty much all over Europe.

Fast-forward another forty years. Forty years ago. This was a time when petrochemical companies were the heroes of all mankind. If you invented new chemicals you got medals out of the King’s hand. And ‘progress’ was a holy word. Progress for the industry. And ‘escape’ was seen as a filthy, dirty word – maybe it was something you did in the dark where people didn’t see.

In this day and age, forty years ago, a couple of long-haired hippies arrived on the scene and said “maybe we should invent less.” Or at least that’s what the establishment heard. “Maybe we should work less!” And they even went so far as to start a political party around these ideas, after having driven it for a while.

And the establishment went mad. “Are you out of your minds? You can’t found a party because you want to work less! You’re just spoiled brats you want everything for free!”

“Well,” they said. “It’s a little bit more complicated than that. Let us explain…”

If there’s something that we learn from history, it’s that it tends to repeat itself, over and over again.

I’ll tell you why I’m here.

I’m here because I think there are some things that are unjust in this world. I have chosen to become a politician not because I want to, but because I feel I have to. There are things that I think are very unfair and unjust, and I think that the younger generation is being exploited and demonised in a way that it doesn’t deserve. And I think that many people in the establishment don’t understand this. And I think that I have to do something about it. I’m not sure what I can do, but I am going to do what I can. And that’s why I’m here. History is repeating itself, and we are getting the exact same treatment as all people have done before us. Every forty years a new generation needs to re-conquer democracy.

So it’s hard. It’s really hard.

The industry lobbies – both for the security industry and the copyright industry – have wheelbarrows of cash. They can basically just take in this wheelbarrow with lots and lots of cash in it and see politicians grab a little here and a little there, and generally have a good time while doing so.

So how do you beat that? How can you possibly beat the immense amount of cash and power that we have stacked against us? It turns out you can do that, just like the Greens did when stacked against the petrochemical industry that is still, forty years later, the richest on the planet. It turns out you can do that. Like the worker’s movement did – which had every single factory owner on the planet against them.

But there is one thing that beats all of this. There is one thing. One thing only, but there is one thing. That’s votes in a democratic election.

The many count more than the rich. The many count more than the powerful. And that’s why we will win, just like the movements before us. We know that we are right. We know that the world as it looks is unjust. And we know that a whole generation is being mistreated, and not just one generation for that matter.

So what happens is that we need to make this personal for the politicians who don’t care – who don’t realise that they should care. They’re not evil people. They just haven’t seen what’s going on. We owe it to them to give them a chance to understand what is happening right now, because they’re not evil. They just haven’t seen this perspective. And unfortunately they’re not taking a lot of interest in this issue. But there are ways to get their attention.

You can take their jobs – that gets their attention. Unfortunately it’s one of the few ways that does get their attention. So it’s actually not just a threat to take their jobs. Once you start chipping away at the polls, they will start to realise that there’s something here they haven’t understood. That’s actually how it works. And once they realise that there’s something they haven’t understood, that people feel deeply about, they’ll start to try to dig into that.

So imagine we were in an election and we came just 1337 votes short of a place in parliament – or several places in parliament, as that’s the threshold in many places. We would be so disappointed. We wouldn’t believe it. But what would all the other politicians think at that point? Every single other politician would have one – and just one – thought in their head: “Shit. They’re getting in the next time. I better adapt, and fast.”

This is how it works. The instant we start taking votes – AND WE ARE! – we start changing the world. And we are. We are.

The Pirate Party has a visibility way above its size because people see that we are a growing phenomenon. When I give keynotes on the other side of the planet, in San Francisco, in South East Asia, I frequently begin by asking: “Okay, how many in here have heard about the Swedish Pirate Party?” Between half to two-thirds raise their hands. And then, just for the kicks and lulz of it, I say: “Okay, so how many have heard of any other Swedish political party? Let’s see a show of hands.” What happens then is that everybody takes their hand down and starts looking around and laughs. And this happens in Europe as well. I mean, you’d think they’d heard of the Social Democrats, or Greens or something like that, but they don’t think of that.

So why is that? It’s because we’re the next generation’s civil liberties movement, and people have heard of that, people have heard of us.

We have a visibility and awareness that goes way beyond our actual size at this point.

And there is this concern that in many cases we aren’t taken seriously. And people sort of feel uncomfortable with that, and start looking for reasons. Maybe it’s our geeky stature. Maybe it’s the name. Maybe we need to have more television time. Well, you know, I think we deserve it. I think that’s only fair. I think we are being treated just like any new political party has been treated. It’s not our name. It’s not that we aren’t seen on television.

Every single new movement before us was treated just like this. And it may not be fair, but it’s the way the world works. If you have a new party in a country they will be met with skepticism until they have proven themselves. It’s not our fault – we just have to hang in there, just like we are doing. And also it’s useful here to remember that the Greens weren’t taken seriously even after they were in parliament. For Heaven’s sake, they were hippies with long hair and rubber boots. How would you expect them to be taken seriously among a bunch of suits and ties and stiff upper lips, walking around going “doit-de-doit-de-doit-de,” and they’re going “cool man”?

Think of a local council that would put up a factory somewhere. And all of these stiff ties, suits, nice polished shoes sploshing around in the mud, looking at this new planned site somewhere in the field and thinking about how to put public transport there and where the workers will live and all of this. Normal city planning – which is part of, after all, the local council’s job. And while they’re sploshing about in the mud with their polished shoes, all of a sudden comes these local hippies. Long hair, hat, rubber boots, who say “okay, so how will this affect the local environment?”

And these people from the local council just go ballistic. “You’ve got to this hippy nonsense about the environment! This is a factory! This is about jobs and the economy! It has nothing to do with the bloody environment!”

“Well that’s a really nice river man.”

People sometimes disrespect us because we’re geeks. We come from a technical background. Well, that’s why we understand how technology is reshaping society. The Greens came from professions which had close ties to nature. Biologists, field researchers. That’s why they were hippies. That’s why they had rubber boots. And that’s why people didn’t understand that they were for real even after they were in parliament. So we shouldn’t take that too seriously. It’s the other people that will discover just how serious we are.

Also, it helps us that we are working on global issues. Wikileaks, the Pirate Bay – what we are working on are things that are covered by the entire worldwide press. When the Pirate Party of Italy did something or the Pirate Party of Switzerland was helping out Wikileaks or the Pirate Party of Sweden is saying that they will host the Pirate Bay in Parliament just for the kicks of it (which we did), what happens is that this is printed in every newspaper around the world, and that helps the local Pirate Party. We have this huge advantage where everything we do is helping everyone else. And somewhere, I think, that’s who we are.

We are here because we believe in helping others. We believe that you should help those who will never ever in their life be able to repay their debt. We believe that helping others is part of what makes us human. Sharing is caring. And in this world there are leaders, elected and non-elected, who try to beat the drums of war, who try to demonise another kin, another kin of human beings as somehow being less worthy, somehow being aggressive, wanting to go to war so we must defend ourselves. We’ve seen it happen so many times.

What’s happening right now is that we’re discovering that we can talk to these people. When I see lines of Arabic in my browser or in Twitter, it just flashes by and is translated into words I can understand. And what I’m realising is that these human beings are just mothers and fathers who love their children, who want to put nice food on the dinner table and are just like us. They don’t want to go to war. The best they can hope for is to make it home alive.

Our leaders have lost the capacity to lie to us and what we are fighting for is something that will never give them that ability again. Ever ever. We are fighting for the right for people to communicate with one another without distortion by authorities. Without intervention by authorities. And that has helped me discover so much humanity in places I hadn’t expected it.

So, a couple of practical tips to wrap this up.

We know what we stand for. We need to own the issues, and by “owning issues” I mean whenever a reporter is writing a story about something, they should call us. They should call the Pirate Party and ask for our comment on this story. We’re already there on some issues. I mean, we’re the ‘file-sharing party’. As soon as we become know in a country, we’re the ‘file-sharing party’. But going from there to being the ‘civil liberties party,’ that’s hard work. It took us two and a half years to get there. Being anti-censorship, being pro-reporters’ rights, being pro-reporters’ rights to protect their sources, being against wanton wiretapping.

It takes time and perseverence, but then again: we’re not politicians because we think it’s a quick career move. We’re polticians because we feel we have to.

And this places us in actually quite a funny situation in election campaigns, because we find ourselves fighting for journalists’ rights. And journalists are discovering this. In the last election campaign, in the last couple of weeks before the elections the Association of Reporters sent out press releases supporting our policy. In essence, we are not that far from being a ‘journalists’ party,’ and that’s not really a bad situation to be in in an election campaign.

And last, but not least – have fun. We need to choose to have fun along the way, because we’ll be in this for a long time. The world isn’t changed overnight, but I feel that it’s worth it for me personally and that it’s a fight I cannot choose to ignore. So, I need to choose to have fun along the way. And it’s not just for me personally. It’s also for the good of the movement, because people will go to other people who are having fun! If you’re bored, people will ignore you. If you’re having fun and laughing, people will join you. We were even discussing this as part of our parliamentary strategy before the past election when we were preparing to enter parliament (which we unfortunately didn’t, but that’s a separate story). We would have so much fun in Parliament that it would be part of basically psychological warfare against the other parties who were just bickering among themselves, trying to outmaneuver one another, and we would just laugh and have as much fun as we could.

Well, as a side effect, we would be enjoying ourselves. That’s not bad. Having fun while changing the world isn’t the worst thing you can do. Especially not while changing the world for the better.

I have one final thing to ask of you. Forty years from now it’s quite likely that the Pirate Party movement and Pirate Parties all over the world will consist of career politicians. The founders of the Green movement sometimes bump into me and other leaders and founders of Pirate Parties, and they’re treating us like their sons and daughters, because they see in our passion, in our ideas, that we are fighting to make the world a better place, just like they did forty years ago. We’re carrying on their legacy. We’re carrying on the cycles of history.

So, I have something to ask of you.

In forty years, those of us who are still around, it’s likely that a couple of young spoilt brats will want everything free all over again. Help them. Help them succeed, just like we did.

Thank you, and I’m looking forward to meeting you all again next time around. Cheers. Safe travels.

– Rick Falkvinge, founder of Piratpartiet (Pirate Party Sweden), speaking at the Pirate Parties International General Assembly, Friedrichschafen, Germany, March 2011.


Author: Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer

Pirate Party Australia Deputy Secretary and Press Officer. Former member of the Pirate Parties International Court of Arbitration.

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