Radical Democracy at the European Parliament

On 16th of June 2015 we held an event at the European Parliament to share stories from the Radical Democracy project with MEPs, academics and policy makers. The event included a discussion and a presentation of videos from the project. Here is the presentation.

This is the story of Radical Democracy – a project by the Doc Next Network which has used media making as a way of researching, celebrating and supporting people across Europe who are calling for better democracy. We are going to introduce some videos from the project.

In the run up to the elections to the European Parliament last year we announced a media challenge which invited film and media makers from across Europe to make videos proposing ways to improve democracy. More than 200 videos were submitted. They came from campaigners, amateur film makers and hobby media makers.

Much dissatisfaction with democracy was expressed. The clips from the following videos give a flavour of this: they show: press censorship, disconnected politicians, poverty, big business, unjust laws & their enforcers.

(At present it is not possible to timestamp Vimeo videos so instead I have included the time you will need to wind the counter to in order to view the correct sequence)

Sequence 1: Dissatisfaction with democracy / 0.09

As well as dissatisfaction, alternatives way or organising democracy were expressed. There are two videos here which show that. The first video calls for sortition – a democracy based on citizens chosen by lottery. The second, is about participatory budgeting in Colombia – the process of deciding how a proportion of a city’s budget is spent through a series of public dialogues.

Sequence 2: Alternative democracy / 3.38


In 2014 the Belgian Youth Parliament dissolved itself calling for elective democracy to be replaced with a citizen lottery.

But systemic proposals like this were few and far between. Where films drew attention to alternatives & hope – ‘radical democracy’ was interpreted to mean acting locally to defend housing from developers, protecting and supporting the growth of public spaces and challenging institutions to be more publicly accountable. You could say that radical democracy was about applying the principle of democracy to everyday life. The next sequence shows videos which reflect this.

Sequence 3: Taking democracy closer to everyday life / 4.47

These videos show campaigners and artists eager to claim space in cities, disrupt its rules and replace the dominating influence of one group with a democratic spirit. In the second phase of the project we referred to this action as ‘reclaiming the commons’ – because for these struggles, protests and campaigns to be successful they would need to establish new common spaces, goods and resources in cities.

We will now look at this idea of ‘reclaiming the commons’ as expressed in the videos from three different angles which we focussed on in this second phase – reclaiming home, public space and political parties.

In this second phase the four media making hubs of Doc Next Network in Spain, Poland, Turkey and the UK worked with local campaigners. The clips we’ll see now tell stories in their own right but should also be seen as attempts to help campaigners and activists working for the commons.

The following clips are taken from videos made in London which aimed to support campaigners working to improve the conditions of tenants who rent privately in London. The first gives an introduction to housing pressures in London, the second shows the low status of property guardians who are like ‘legal squatters’ and the third clip is taken from a mocumentary drama which illustrates the socially destructive nature of London’s rental market.

Sequence 4: Homes / 9.15

These films show that it’s possible for governments to fulfill their legal responsibility to provide people with shelter, but what results can often be far from what might be called a ‘home’. For these video makers, thinking of housing as part of the commons, may not necessarily mean ‘sharing your home with other people’ – but it does mean that homes in cities are not possible if housing is left to be part of the market like any other commodity. Housing, in other words should be seen as a common good.

Videos which celebrate new urban community culture – bicycle fixing workshops, people who act, play and educate in public spaces & social centres – featured strongly in the original media challenge. In the second phase in Turkey and Poland the hubs supported local activists who are campaigning for better public spaces in the city.

In the next sequence the first two videos are from Turkey – they have both been used to publicise an online platform for artists and designers which seeks to improve public spaces in cities. The last video shows Open Jazdow – one of two initiatives the Polish hub supported which aimed (successfully) to preserve some unloved but unique wooden houses and support the growth of a thriving public space around them.

Sequence 5: Public Spaces / 13.37

 The Urban Movement in Poland has been effective in influencing mayoral elections and has also campaigned against the Krakow 2022 Olympic games. But it’s worth mentioning too that what began as a call for green space – a green commons – has become a call for more democracy. Both Lodz and Sopot have recently introduced participatory budgeting in response to pressure from the urban movement. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that the participatory budgeting video we saw earlier was made by someone from Poland.

In Spain new parties have formed in cities with the aim of claiming politics with the same principles they have used to claim spaces and buildings during protests and occupations of recent years. At the end of May candidates from new municipal parties – keen on collective decision making processes, openness and mistrustful of free-market economics – stood in elections all over the country. In Spain the municipal government is now controlled by Barcelona en Comu and Ada Colau. You will now see two films from Spain – the first captures the spirit of the municipal movement, the second shows candidates from these municipal parties talking openly to one another. The first part shows them talking about how they came to form political parties – the second part shows them discussing discussing how they will deal with being part of and changing institutions they do not trust.

Sequence 6: Political Parties / 19.15

So to wrap up: in the video challenge phase of the project, radical democracy meant applying ‘democratic’ principles to everyday life in the city. Taken to their logical conclusion, these principles mean an urban commons, or urban common goods need to be established. That’s why the project focussed on this in three areas – housing, public space and better democracy. The criticism of these movements perhaps is that they lack legitimacy as the people involved are unaccountable, self-appointed interest groups, but there’s been much to suggest in the project that a desire for ‘reclaiming the commons’ is less about rejecting institutions and more about renewing them.