The Rise of Freelance Politicians

by Hristian Daskalov*


According to the futurist Alvin Toffler, in his book The Third Wave, humanity has until now experienced two radical economic changes – the first is related to agriculture and, the second, with the rise of the industrial society in Western Europe. The heritage of the industrial revolution is today the leading form of social organisation in the world, even in areas which are to be progressive in their nature, such as education. Characteristic of industrial society, as the writer claims, is the mass production, mass distribution of wealth, mass education, mass distribution of information, nature of mass entertainment, etc. Toffler believes that along with the transition to the “third wave”, this mass character will disappear from many aspects of our lives and will be replaced by more varied forms of communication, education and enjoyment, consistent with the unique desires of individuals. I would add also a change in the political agenda. If we compare one of the key aspects of the new economy – the production of more specific products, meeting the precise needs of individual customers, at the expense of traditional mass production of millions of identical copies – to the present day product of the political system then one thing is clear: the latter is lagging behind in the transformational process The political system does not resonate with the expectations of its final receivers, the people, who are starting to comprehensively understand and responsibly embrace their role in the policy-making process no longer as passive consumers, but instead as active individual producers.

If indeed the “third wave” can be defined as the information age, it seems that today we are exactly in transition to it. The social unrests that we are witnessing today are perhaps part of the turmoil that accompanies this transition. Bulgaria, a small post-communist state in South-Eastern Europe, in the outskirts of the financial and debt crisis, but just next door to rebellious Greece, is no exception to this course of actions. In February 2013, the otherwise humbled citizens of one of the poorest EU member-states flooded the streets of all major Bulgarian cites tens of thousands expressed their discontent with the living standards and levels of corruption in the country, governed back then by a centre-right party, infamous for its head and prime-minister, former bodyguard and militiaman, who combines the charisma and populist rhetoric of Silvio Berlusconi with the repressive and forceful character of Viktor Orbán. People organised themselves mainly through social media, opposing all the big political parties and succeeding in keeping their protest non-partisan, despite provocations from parties and mainstream media. Eventually the executive power responded with disproportionate force against the protesters, leading to the fall of the national government.

So far, nothing quite that unique, given the overall picture worldwide, after the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis. Later on, in May 2013, a new parliament was elected and again not surprisingly, given the political deficit and the failure of the political system as we know it, the old political powers of the establishment not only succeeded in regaining positions, but even made their victory over the people on the streets more clear with only top four political powers, represented in the national assembly. Yet this representation was obviously a product of a failed and outdated system and the victory itself – a Pyrrhic one, as according to official polls showed that only 26% of the population supported the parliament just days after its election. But what came as a shock for politicians was the fact that after the active citizens remained formally unrepresented in the parliament, not affiliated with any of the parties of the establishment, not only they didn’t lose faith, neither became dispirited, but felt ready more than ever to substitute the failed mass-representative political system with a better one, based on individual responsibility, proactiveness. With no intentions to change the establishment from the inside, but rather to leave it in the past, while finding a new form of self-organisation, described here as freelance policy.

Only days after the new government of Bulgaria was formed, the former opposition socialist party, now head of the government, catalysed those processes by nominating a pro-government media mogul, linked to one of the biggest and most powerful corporate groups in Bulgaria as director of the National Security Agency – a powerful repressive instrument in the hands of the executive power, known for its surveillance against opposition journalists. A classic-style oligarchy scenario, performed before the eyes of Bulgarian citizens, who this time would not be satisfied with a few resignations and minor changes, neither saw their role anymore as soulless barometers, measuring the state of the economic environment. 36 days later, after the second wave of protests burst, the capital Sofia remains occupied by thousands, protesting every morning and every evening, leavening the streets and squares behind cleaner than prior to their rallies, only to come back again on the next day to drink their morning coffee in front of the Parliament and discuss the programme for the afternoon. They want too show that they are the real creative power of the national project, not just photos from a Facebook event, even though they do not have any institutional recognition, except for the biggest one as citizens of the their country, as source of the power in the hands of the government.

Similar trends are seen around the world – in Turkey, in Chile and Brazil, even in Egypt to some extent, though the different outcomes seen in each those countries come from the aggressiveness government institutions towards the ongoing social unrest. In some cases police, in others the army, will affect the peaceful and democratic character of these processes but in common there are demands for economical, social or moral justice, all led by the 2.0 version of the active citizen, the “freelance politician”.

The freelance politician is a politician on a free-basis. He is a citizen who is interested in the political and public life of his community and the processes taking place in it, but prefers to work on promoting the policies that he supports, considers valuable and implements in the society, and to share the ideas and values, associated with them, without identifying himself with a particular political party, thus staying away from the traditional political world. This aspect does not make her political views less popular or lacking support but, instead, helps to grow their popularity among the general public, as messages are made by a clearly defined political subject, beyond the mask of party anonymity in an era when people are non-anonymous more than ever before and like to express themselves, be heard. The freelance politician bears a personal responsibility before society for his policies, not earning any personal benefits from his otherwise possible participation in political party structures, and not bearing the negative effects from the collective (ir)responsibility in those same structures.

Freelance politicians are not necessarily involved as participants in the electoral process itself, therefore staying quite too often officially unrepresented, as in the Bulgarian case, and do not necessarily have self-interested political motives for participation in the conventional political and governmental model. They implement their public policies by the influence they exercise, using modern forms of social communication online, blogs, social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and others.

The influence of freelancers in the political word became evident during the 2008 presidential campaign in the United States, when several of such individuals, acting on their own and moved only by their personal motivation to be part of the political process, worked actively and independently and online using platforms such as YouTube, MySpace and others to support the campaign of their favourite candidates. Later on, through the processes of social learning, citizens realised that they could not rely solely on representation as their elected representatives too often fail to deliver their promises. The freelance politician, on the other hand, may conduct civil participation in the process of decision-making in his community, not only online, but also through the work of non-governmental organisations, media and the public sector, showing his active political position outside the common political model, thinking independently, away from political parties and trying out-of-the-box solutions.

Long after the end of the French Revolution, protestors on the streets of Sofia are using its symbolism to demonstrate for political change in the spirit of the principles of that revolution - liberty, equality and fraternity. Photo by social anthropologist Vassil Garnizov.


The protest movement in Bulgaria, for example, expressed with great dose of offline creativity its thoughts on the present day political status quo, recreating a scene from the French Revolution from the times of radical social and political upheaval, when French society underwent an epic transformation turning one feudal and aristocratic state into a republican nation, embracing liberty, equality and fraternity, giving birth to modern-day liberal democracies. In Brazil people opposed police with inflatable mattresses, in Turkey thousands listened to a piano concert in Taksim Square, in between some of the most frightening scenes of violence. These and many more are scenes of a new political culture of active and creative participation.

What differentiates the freelance politician into a 2.0 version of the civil/self-aware citizen is her eagerness to influence on the political processes taking place in the community and of course the fact that, as every freelance work, this also has its benefits and repayment. The freelance’s reward is not based on a long-term commitment to any particular employer but rather on the results achieved. In traditional political science, the reward is nothing more but the public trust and support, on which the freelance politician also relies and by which is motivated.

Indeed, the current social and economic turmoil in Bulgaria and around the world is only a symptom – clearly and severe – but only a symptom, a projection of the core problem with the dramatic and systemic lack of trust in the old establishment, which is lagging behind the pace of the social and political implications of the “third wave” transformation. The good news is that citizens are getting more and more sensitive and reactive to those issues that in the past would have only been coped superficially and without in-depth analyses. What else can be done as the institutional gaps should be filled through personal responsibility and proactiveness? Thomas Jefferson once said that “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be.” In the last couple of years we have seen a significant increase in the pace of the formation of those institutional gaps but also of the creative ways in which they are filled, through civil awareness and reactiveness. If all the civil demonstrations after 2008 in a country such as Bulgaria were to be statistically studied, they would form a line of geometric progression in terms of dimensions and a line of geometric regression in terms of time-span between every two expressions of active citizenship. The freelance politician, in this line of thought, is more of an instrument of social and political change than a consequence or a final product of it.

So what can one expect from the protests in Bulgaria, Turkey, Chile, Brazil, Egypt? Which will be the breaking point and when it will occur? As democracy is not a state, but rather a process, it is hard to predict. The turnover is apparently uncertain in terms of time-frames and other factors, but definitely not in terms of likelihood to take place. It is that the most creative acts are generally unexpected and originate in the minds of people who are interacting socially, economically and politically with their environment. Hence, maximising data processing in people’s minds – encouraging them to be proactive freelance politicians, or at least to comprehensively form such a mindset, and minimizing overly-detailed planning, would provide positive conditions for creativity and, eventually, for the achievement of positive outcomes out of this process of global transformation. Virtually no creative act is a result of a managerial plan. Room for experimentation and out-of-the-box thinking is needed and should be encouraged. In terms of constrains by police forces or other representatives of the executive or legislative power as creativity loves restrictions, those would be turned into incentives in the fight to change the status quo. This new generation of freelance politicians needs no further instructions on how to rebuild the system on more stable grounds. Quite the opposite – instructions would go against the very spirit of current social movements and would eventually lead to the rejection of its guiding principles. The fight for individual liberty and prosperity, in all of its dimensions, including social, political and economic, is always against the excessive constrains of the pre-established order.

The more the daily social, economical and political challenges around the world are shared, on the pathway to democratic transformation, the more ideas would come from everywhere, the more people would get inspired by them and the closer we will get to the goal: to concentrate efforts in the strive for personal, social and economic liberation of mind. What is important to be understood by the current political is that people, especially the youth, who are facing common challenges and understandings about the new horizontal social and political order, will no longer rely nor support failed political institutions and projects that have run out of fuel. Instead, they will choose to promote their individuality and political ideas of higher moral and integrity with the overall developments in the world, with the help of modern communication technologies and social media platforms.

Special thanks to Vassil Garnizov for permitting the use of the photo.


Hristian Daskalov is a public policy expert, affiliated to Brain Workshop Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria, and a founder of the non-formal “Open Source” Movement – Virtual Society for Personal Freedom and Limited Government. The author first used the term freelance politician in 2009 during a conference on virtual policy and its non-virtual implications. You can contact him by email.

Readers are encouraged to quote, reproduce and share this content for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the HR&D team.


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