“Pirate Party? Are you serious?” I hear that all the time when I’m canvassing. “With a name like that, how will you succeed?” Well, I reply, it got your attention, didn’t it?
The last time we canvassed in New York City parks, most conversations went something like this:
“Hi, are you tired of politics?”
The person keeps walking.
“Left vs. right always saying the same thing?”
They keep walking.
“I’m with the Pirate Party!”
They stop. They slowly turn around.
Pirates. Arr, shiver me timbers. Swillin’ grog an’ plunderin’ yer treasure. That’s the image the name immediately conjures to many people. They laugh. We tell them that we don’t have a chairman, we have a captain, and they laugh even more. We tell them we want to declare mutiny against the corrupt government, and their sides are splitting.
But now they’ve let their guard down. They’re paying attention. So we talk about how privacy and freedom of speech are at threat. We talk about how intellectual property laws are actually harming, not helping, the economy. We talk about liquid democracy, and its potential to make people more informed, engaged, and in control of their governance. And by golly, they listen. And it sounds like a pretty good idea.
Contrast this to being serious. What if we called ourselves the Knowledge Party, or the Intellectual Freedom Party? The Free Culture Party? The Empowerment Party? Most people wouldn’t give us a second glance. Especially in countries like the United States, where political apathy is at an all-time high, being safe and serious won’t get you anywhere. Counter-intuitively, acting serious is the biggest barrier to being taken seriously that a sociopolitical movement could possibly erect. If you want to engage only a small subset of policy wonks and hardcore activists, by all means, be professional. But if you want the attention of a public that increasingly gets more of its news from satirists and comedians than from journalists, there are worse things you could do than wearing an eyepatch and putting a parrot on your shoulder.
Don’t run from the pirate imagery. Ham it up. And for goodness’ sake, don’t talk like a politician. Loosen up. Talk to people like they’re your friends, get colloquial. Have a sense of humor, and don’t be afraid that cracking a joke or being tongue-in-cheek will harm your credibility. For every boring, uptight person whose support you lose by shouting “Y’arrrrrrr!”, you’ll gain the support of ten awesome people who haven’t paid attention to politics in years.