For a year now, the online action platform campact has been sending burger protests to the computers of political decision-makers
Members of the bundestag, eu parliamentarians and government representatives have been exposed to a special form of burgernahe for some time now. Their e-mail accounts become the gateway for organized citizen protest. The idea is not entirely new, but has been professionally implemented in germany for a year by the campact initiative. It initiates political campaigns with changing cooperation partners, bundles the displeasure of the electorate and thus lends it weight. A famous example is the moveon initiative, which has become an influential player since its founding in 1998, and whose interventions in u.S. Policy have received widespread attention (cf. Revenge of the flying toasters). In this country, participation is still limited, but members of parliament are taking the warning tones from their digital inboxes surprisingly seriously.
In the past twelve months, a total of four campaigns have been launched on different ies: to stop the planned eu directive on software patents, to disclose the supplementary income of members of the bundestag and, more recently, to maintain the nuclear phase-out and to withdraw the planned increase in value added tax.
The start-up funding for campact came from the bewegungsstiftung, which has been providing financial support to social movement groups and organizations for several years now (hear online demos on citizens’ rights). In the future, financing will have to be provided on the company’s own feet, and here, too, there are major differences from moveon, which is supplied with several million dollars a year by 3.3 million members. While campact focuses on informing and influencing members of parliament, its big brother from america has long since developed into a powerful political organization whose anti-bush campaign attracted a lot of attention. "Unlike moveon, which aligned itself with the democrats during the election campaign, we have no party political affiliation and also exclude cooperation with a party," says campact spokesman christoph bautz.
The five organizers are responsible for deciding which ies to put on the campact agenda, but they receive support from an illustrious group of advisors. Content-related know-how comes, among others, from attac-affiliated political scientists elmar altvater, birgit mahnkopf and claus leggewie, the bund chairwoman angelika zahrnt or also the board member of the federal association of consumer consultancies, edda muller. As wide as the network of advisors is, as diverse is the field of previous cooperation partners for the individual actions. It ranges from attac, bund, transparency deutschland to ig metall.
This is a repeat of what has been observed for some time: large and small, traditional and young political organizations are making efforts to combine forces in order to appear together on the superparliamentary stage. In addition to high-profile campaigns and demonstrations, they use campact as another way to exert political influence between elections through direct democracy. Whereby campact works with a clearly defined profile. The goal is always to influence the legislative process. Another important criterion: the prospects of success. "We work on all political ies where there is a chance to make a difference," says christoph bautz.
Fast, targeted, effective: politics as a service
Campact also responds to a need for "service" politics. With little personal effort of the participants a rough effect is to be achieved in short time. For each campaign, there is a 5-minute introduction to the topic and the argumentation. Pre-written letters can be sent to the right place after just a few mouse clicks. "In this way, we also want to address people who are not addressed by the social movements and do not have the necessary time to get involved. There are low-threshold and high-threshold offerings: you can sign the call or formulate your own protest," says christoph bautz.
In this way, the representatives of the people are confronted with the will of the citizens. In april, the fight against the threatening eu directive for the introduction of software patents was the first step. Here campact joined the strong and ultimately successful european protest movement against the adoption of the directive in the eu parliament. Together with attac, the focus was on the targeted processing of the german parliamentarians. The emails were joined by additional protests on the ground and an online demonstration in which more than 5.000 people involved. Sending letters of protest to the member of parliament of one’s own constituency is considered a particularly effective tool. This was also the case a month ago, when shortly before the vote in the bundestag on the disclosure of ancillary income, approx. 1.000 e-mails were enough to get 120 deputies to respond in person to the mail campaign.
Encouraged by its initial successes, campact is currently venturing into a cruder chunk: "vat? Finger weg" heibt the current campaign. Although the increase to 19 percent is a done deal in the grand coalition, campact still sees a chance to prevent its introduction in january 2007. In the first five days 3.000 people participated.
At present, the real protest is far cruder than the virtual one. In luneburg alone, 7.000 people demonstrated against the continued use of nuclear power, 2.500 have so far taken part in the corresponding campact campaign. Not an overwhelming number, but additional support. And there is much to suggest that the turnout will grow in parallel with their rising profile.