As people learn about the California Pirate Party, one of the most common questions they ask is whether we are serious about qualifying as a registered political party in our state. The name “Pirate Party” is one example they point to as evidence of a joke. Many people seem to think that the name “Pirate Party” is too silly or alienating to those that wish to take politics seriously. Some think that calling ourselves pirates will hurt our chances with an older voting block. We disagree with these characterizations for a number of reasons:
1. Context – The California Pirate Party did not choose its name randomly. It should be noted that the first Pirate Party, Piratpartiet, was founded in 2006 by Rick Falkvinge in Sweden. The Swedish Pirate Party emerged partially as a response to copyright and intellectual property policies that concentrated the power of the recording industry at the expense of individual and collective freedom. One aspect of this concentration of power is a rhetorical maneuver intended to shape the perception of people who download art. In other words, through an institutional base of power, media production companies utilize the word “piracy” as a rhetorical device in order to shame and demonize individuals that share information. Use of the term “pirate” to denote those who download movies, music and video games is an intended tactic to associate information sharing with criminality. This effort has also been largely successful. We currently live in a culture where people are afraid to admit in public that they have engaged in file sharing, as if it is a nasty case of gonorrhea, despite the fact that file sharing is pervasive.
The Pirate Party chose its name as a reclamation of the term “pirate”. Rather than allowing media production companies to criminalize file sharers, the pirate party seeks to promote a new culture of openness and information. Throughout history, the dispossessed have worked together to reclaim hate speech and disarm its discursive violence. Minority groups can redeploy rhetoric to their advantage and fill it with their own meaning. The gay community did it with “queer”, the black community did it with the N word, and now the pirates seek to do it to preserve our digital humanity. Rather than evidence of a “joke”, this purpose behind the name of the Pirate Party may be one of the most serious changes to the social landscape the pirate party can hope for.
2. History – The term “pirate” is not new. It is historically used to refer to someone who commits robbery at sea. However, a brief look at pirate theory reveals a more complicated issue. We have offered blog posts in the past referencing the work of Marcus Rediker, a historian, writer, teacher and activist that writes extensively about pirate culture and history. Rediker and others point out that traditional pirate communities were comprised of social outcasts, ex-slaves, women and minorities who were expelled by the social systems they originated from. As such, these “bands of misfits” created their own societies aboard pirate crews that were radically democratic and egalitarian. For instance, Klausmann, Meinzerin and Kuhn note:
“The escaped slave, the unemployed manual laborer, the murderess in flight, the lunger without means, and the jaded daughter of a ‘better family’ – all receive the same rights under piracy. ‘No social distinctions or particular classes could be found within their society. Everyone sailed as an equal on the ship.’ Especially remarkable are the opportunities that arose in the pirate world for women: ‘Pirate women were considered especially dangerous, and accepted as leaders at a time when women on land had long been robbed of rights and dignity.’ Each pirate developed his or her own kind of pirate life, determined by one’s self and no other.”
The Pirate party recognizes that there is a rich tradition of democratic deliberation and progressive ideology in some aspects of traditional pirate culture. The Pirate party puts the people in charge of the ship, and allows debate to reveal the smartest positions. This includes a willingness to respectfully listen to the perspectives of the freaks, hippies and weirdos.
3. Symbolism – Pirates are perhaps one of the most popular cultural symbols of the 21st century (next to zombies, vampires and ninjas). It is not surprising that a quick google search for “pirate party” brings up as many hits for planning the perfect pirate themed birthday party as the political party itself. It is unclear how much influence Johnny Depp had in the process, but pirates are safely enshrined in our gestalt. Americans are drawn to the image of the pirate and celebrate it often. The Pirate Party seeks to use this symbolism to motivate smart yet apathetic individuals to take an active role in shaping American Politics.
One of the main goals of the pirate party is promoting public intellectualism. The Pirate Party works to promote a world where people are excited about discussing ideas and negotiating a better collective future. Some say that every good song has a hook. By utilizing the symbolism of piracy, the Pirate Party hopes to hook people as they are moving. Once they are watching the show, then the pirate party demonstrates that it is a serious political organization with solid policy proposals. The pirate party believes that politics can be fun, and that we can enjoy ourselves and change the world for the better at the same time. There will be more about this aspect of pirate party ideology in Defending Pirate Party Ideology – Part 2: The Costumes.
4. Juxtaposition – At the end of the day, we ask anyone who is concerned about the name “pirate party” to take a minute and think about all of those other political parties in America. What makes “pirate party” any more silly than “green” or “democrat”? Why does the term “pirate” offend anyone more than the term “republican”? At least the name is honest.