Following a class discussion with a campaigner from Azaaz, I considered the opportunities such campaigning organisations might offer for ‘fixing’ democracy.
Is democracy broken? The recent referendum for Scottish independence aside, figures on voting and public perception of politics have been becoming dismal.
Contrast this with numbers involved in petitions/campaign actions – Avaaz has almost 40 million members, and 38 Degrees’ website shows that over 17 million actions have been taken. “Actions” include signing petitions, donating to ad campaigns and writing directly to power holders.
These organisations could be accused of fostering ‘slacktivism’, the idea that by simply clicking a petition, actors are not really changing anything other than smugness. But really, how active is putting a cross in a box and allowing somebody else to make decisions on your behalf for 5 years?!
Avaaz and 38 Degrees et all can bridge the perceived gap between the electorate and the elected, by showing popular support or condemnation (usually the latter) for policies. They also prove that people can be engaged in politics. One example is the 38 Degrees “Save Our Forests” campaign, which attracted over 500,000 petition signatures amongst lots of other member-directed action.
It should be easier to direct politicians’ work than emailing, calling, attending surgeries. They could come to the electorate using new communications in the same way as these organisations. Could politicians use new media to get directly in touch with electorate to float ideas or ask specifically how to vote on key parliamentary decisions? Arguably this would increase the accountability of our politicians and restore some legitimacy to the political structures we have in the UK.
On a theoretical level, this could be a form of reverting back to pre-modern campaigning type/governance as described by Norris , taking politics away from the lobbyists, and returning it to the electorate’s hands.
1. Norris, P (2000), “A Virtuous Circle: Political Communications in Post-Industrial Societies”, Cambridge University Press