I took some time yesterday to read useful summaries of how new Greek and Spanish political parties are organising themselves. These groupings (Syriza and Podemos respectively) have emerged incredibly quickly from mass dissatisfaction with the impact of ‘austerity’, using new ideas on how active democracy can work, born out of Occupy and the social movements that have sprung up in both countries. They are both using an inspiring mix of community level meetings and interaction alongside social media to enable mass decision making. The challenge is to find ways of engaging with the – essentially dysfunctional – parliamentary system to gain elected representatives, in order to change the systems themselves….while not becoming part of those systems and alienating the energy of the people.
While Podemos has over 200,000 members, they also encourage non members to take part in everything they do – including voting – recognising that many people are turned off by party politics, but turned on by the desire to have a voice. They have clearly jettisoned ‘left’ and ‘right’ in favour of a people’s discourse on democracy and the people’s role vs the establishment. The Greek Syriza model is operating alongside the vast network of people’s groups that have sprung up to counter a collapse of social support – they are looking to provide an effective electoral vehicle while not taking autonomy away.
In the UK both the Greens and UKIP are offering themselves as a ‘real alternative’ to the Big Three, but both operate within the system without providing a radical alternative for engagement. Something closer to the Syriza and Podemos models could be adopted at the lower levels of UK “democracy” where party politics is irrelevant and maybe if the May elections produce little real change, the environment will be right for this to emerge higher up too?
(The latest issue of Red Pepper has articles on Syriza, Podemos and Independents for Frome’s democratic aspirations – Friends of Podemos have a UK Facebook site)