Forget Talk Like a Pirate Day. In the 2012 elections, November 6 will be Vote Like a Pirate Day — if you happened to have joined a growing number of hackers and Internet activists and registered as a member of the Massachusetts Pirate Party (MAPP).
Formed in opposition to the growing movement toward legislative restrictions on the Web, the Pirate Party is no joke. The international party was born in Sweden circa 2006, started by the founders of the Pirate Bay torrent site; their platform includes opposition to the criminalization of file sharing and government censorship of the Web. By 2009, political Pirates were being elected as members of European Parliament. One year ago, the Massachusetts electoral division approved the local party's official status.
To educate voters on getting involved with the party — and Internet-based politics in general— the Mass Pirates are holding a first-ever Pirate Conference, at the Democracy Center in Cambridge this weekend. With such talks as "Bringing sunlight to government data" (a crash-course on data mining for educating voters) and a speech from MAPP's "captain" James O'Keefe on "How to run for office," the conference marks an organizational milestone for this upstart third party.
Another guest speaker at Saturday's conference is David House. House, a local 24-year-old, started the controversial Bradley Manning Support Network, which lead to him being called as a witness— and refusing to testify — during the US government's grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks.
House compares the invention of the Internet to the invention of the printing press: "[The printing press] completely changed everything because the peasants could read," says House. "Middle classes started rising up, aristocracy lost its power, and democracy happened." The advent of the Internet, he adds, "is the largest technological revolution, arguably, that we've had since the Industrial Revolution — within a capitalist system. So you're gonna have these massive powers that exist on one side of the revolution, and you're gonna have the new guard that exists on the other side of the revolution, which is us."
Although House isn't a registered Pirate, his degree in computer science and involvement in digital activism helped him become an independent leader of this new guard. He currently works for a public-relations firm dedicated to activist causes.
"We saw during the SOPA debacle that every major Web company was protesting this law — this law proposing to censor the Internet because of copyright," says House, who founded the Boston University Information Lab and Design Space, a student-run hackerspace.
"It sucks that there's this period of waiting for the dinosaurs to die," he continues. "One wonders what they're thinking in Washington when laws like SOPA are actually making it into the agenda for discussion."
During his talk, titled "Going toe-to-toe with the state: navigating the challenges of a digital activist," House will offer insight as to what Internet activists can expect when getting involved with cyber-political issues.
"I feel like in a democracy we are, perhaps, all of us are activists," says House. "Because when we're not taking action in a political manner in a democracy, we're not really participating in our democracy. . . . The question is, what will it look like when this transition period is done? What does a government look like in Western democracy when it becomes even more diffuse? There may be a new political system which we haven't thought of yet. I think we should all sit down and think hard about that."
The Massachusetts Pirate Conference will be held from 9 am–6 pm on March 10, at the Democracy Center, 45 Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge.