This blog first appeared on OpenDemocracy.
More than 20 years ago I had a lively discussion with a leading German politician who complained that Terre Des Hommes, the child rights organisation I was leading at the time, interfered with national politics. He abhorred our advocacy and campaigns and demanded that we “leave politics to the politicians”. This politician’s perspective was firmly rooted in a traditional understanding of democracy shaped in the 19th and early 20th centuries: once every four or five years people would undertake the often arduous journey to a polling station, cast their votes and return home, most of them leaving politics to the politicians until the next election.
Since that conversation, the growth of digital communications means that politicians have lost their monopoly on politics. Representative democracy as we know it is under enormous pressure everywhere. Globally, a power struggle between governments and “their” citizens or, from my perspective, between citizens and their governments, is underway. The Internet has provided each individual with more and better means to inform themselves, to control politicians, to voice their opinion, to seek the support of others and to form powerful political alliances. The space for civic participation has grown enormously and power has shifted away from traditional political structures and actors. MORE