Restoring the house that Jack built: how the lessons of the past can help solve the housing crisis

This is the story of three politicians: Jack, Norm and John. Shaped by their youth, each implemented their own concept of Kiwi housing. Think of it as a typical bungalow that Jack built during the 1930s, Norm renovated in the 1970s, and John flogged off to international property speculators for a hefty profit in the 2000s. Their stories explain how the current housing crisis was created, and offer a way out.

The story begins with Jack. During the 1930s generations born during the late-Victorian era, who had started life in urban slums and rural huts for itinerant labourers, embarked a bold rethink of housing. Leading the charge was one of their own, John A. Lee, commonly known during his heyday as ‘Jack’. Born into a Dunedin slum in 1891, the teenage Lee was convicted of petty theft and sentenced to Burnham Industrial School for young offenders. After he successfully escaped, Lee spent years on the run working as a swagman in farms, butcheries and factories – experiences that informed his political outlook: practical, bold and with a lifelong penchant for rebellion. After a year in Mt Eden Prison for bootlegging and theft, and service in World War I in which he lost his left arm, Lee was elected a Labour MP in 1922. Political rival Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage refused to appoint the charismatic, popular radical to cabinet when Labour was elected to government in 1935, instead giving him the minor post of Parliamentary Undersecretary with responsibility for housing. Naturally, the Victorian survivor turned political gadfly had a plan.

Highlighting housing conditions during the Great Depression, Lee used his position to end the hardship endured by slum-dwellers, swagmen and the newly destitute alike. He proposed a large-scale state housing plan beyond what the cautious Savage deemed necessary, but the PM was ultimately convinced. With Government as the procurer of materials and land and Fletcher Construction as the monopoly builder, over 30,000 state houses were built between 1936 and 1949 housing the urban poor, middle class and eventually returning servicemen. Though the rebellious Lee eventually fell foul of Savage and was ultimately expelled from Labour in 1940, he deserves credit for affordable, accessible housing as a human right, with the state serving as a guarantor. The house was built.

Generations born in the early 20th century dreamed beyond basic rights, aspiring to own their own affordable home. Their dreams were encouraged by Norman Kirk, the prime minister from 1972 to 1974. A child of the Great Depression, Kirk had firsthand experience of the deprivation common among poorer families. A school dropout at 12, he worked as a train engine cleaner, chimney painter, ferry mechanic and factory worker in his youth. While better off than those from the Victorian slums, this generation often had to fight for good housing. Living in rat-infested workers accommodation at a Bay of Plenty factory in 1944, Kirk snapped one night when he killed a rat which attacked his infant son. He barged into a board meeting and threw down the newspaper-wrapped dead rat on the table, yelling “How would you like to live under these conditions?!” at aghast board members. Later, Kirk famously cycled his own building materials from Christchurch to Kaiapoi to construct the family home known as ‘The House that Norm Built.’

Kirk united his generation’s experiences of poverty with the views of idealistic baby boomers to create an aspirational vision of government and communities that were responsible for people’s basic needs so that individuals could make the choices he himself lacked. As Labour leader Kirk, immortalised voters’ needs as ‘Someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for’ while acquiring the hippyish-endearing musical moniker ‘Big Norm.’ Coupled with health problems, Kirk’s fierce push to reinvigorate Lee’s housing rights concept (among an array of bigger reforms) hastened his death within two years. His legacy included mass state housing expansion, low-interest low-to-middle income loans, special savings accounts, better tenant rights and rent caps, and taxes on property speculation.

The success of Kirk’s programmes had a downside: many baby boomers began to take the opportunities provided by Lee and Kirk for granted, believing they owed successes to merit alone. For them, housing was increasingly seen less as a human right, and more of an opportunity.

Enter John Key, the Burnside state-house boy turned multimillionaire Merrill Lynch currency trader – New Zealand’s dominant political figure from 2008 until his resignation as prime minister late last year. Embodying his first election slogan ‘Ambitious for New Zealand’, Key’s politics stripped the public responsibility from Kirk’s hard-scrabble aspirationalism, enshrining individual effort as the ultimate means to earn that dream Parnell mansion and holiday homes in Omaha and Maui.

This approach sits comfortably with boomers who benefit from rising property values. National’s privatisation of high-value Orakei and Glen Innes state houses without sufficient replacements while refusing bold tax measures to halt rising prices and rents treats government as a hindrance to what is essentially a boomer retirement nest-egg racket. While homeowners demand young people make fewer ‘bad choices’ and ‘eat less smashed avocado’, people forced into overcrowded accommodation, uninsulated garages and even cars by rising prices represents a grim modern manifestation of the Victorian slum.

Abandoned by Key, Generation X’ers and Millennials need their own Lees and Kirks to end modern housing as a highly-profitable investment while also, like Lee, addressing broader generational hardships. The success of Chlöe Swarbrick is instructive: an unknown political novice, she ran for Auckland mayor against a former Minister of Education responsible for creating her university fees and student loan debt, and achieved 7% on a platform prioritising housing affordability. As with Kirk, our new political generation can learn from their predecessors while dealing with contemporary issues such as international property speculation. Despite Lee’s current pariah status in Labour, their Kiwibuild policy of bulk-buying materials and land for affordable private houses is a clear nod to their state housing pioneer. With boomer homeowners remaining largely oblivious to the housing crisis, it’s time for younger generations to restore the house of Jack and Norm to its former glory.

Originally Published in The Spinoff

POLITICAL PITCHFORK MEDIA

HITCHFORK.png

Donald Trump took a metaphorical dump on every single page of the modern political playbook. Under those rules, a candidate with no solid organisation, establishment backing, strategy, strong fundraising or coherent narrative, whose speeches were just WWF wrestler-level theatrical braggadocio, shouldn’t have stood a chance. But Trump more ably understood widespread political disenchantment and anger from those who didn’t care for professionally-crafted speeches or being accused of racism or misogyny and had nothing to lose. Learning from The Apprentice, he ran a reality TV character candidacy where ethics, lies and outlandish statements are just part of a successful character.

This is a wake-up call for the political geeks and pundits who have turned politics into what Pitchfork Media is to music – changing an accessible concept into an overly-analytical, unintelligible cultural branding exercise and personal journey. Especially outside America, many believed they understood the political behaviour of 18-49 year old White college graduates from Ohio based on what they gleamed from New York Times articles reinforced by Facebook likes while constantly hitting refresh on Five Thirty Eight. We ignored warnings from the frequently-dismissed Michael Moore, who probably better sensed the mood of his white working class Michigan kin than any pollster. The columnists and pundits who we worship no longer understand politics, let alone our their citizens. Where we don’t speak a narrative that ordinary people understand in times of trouble, right-wing populists create them with devastating effect. French President Marine LePen and Dutch Prime Minister Geert Wilders in 2017 are no longer remote possibilities.

It’s not enough for politicians to digitally stitch together hypothetical demographic-geographic voter coalitions based on polling algorithms, we need to engage different perspectives outside of our personal echo chambers.

This is an indictment of the approaches of the mainstream left worldwide. Our democratic and economic models are badly failing to provide healthy political debate, economic and social stability and solve deep national and global problems in a post-GFC world. Yet, many of us mistook a pro-corporate, pro-Iraq War foreign policy hawk and poor political campaigner for a dynamic reformer based on gender alone rather than demand actual reformers and good candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. Now, to paraphrase Veep, ‘The fact that you are a woman means there will be no more women presidential candidates because we tried one and she fucking sucked.’

This election confirms that large parts of our societies no longer understand each other and seethe with mutual hatred. Now that Hillary lost, the onus is on the broader left to get its act together. Currently, we don’t know what we want nor are we collectively capable of comprehending what would drive people to vote for Trump or Brexit beyond often overly zealous and moralistic applications of privilege frameworks or just punching down on our social inferiors.

The only way out of this mess is through listening and trying to understand what motivated a Trump victory or Brexit without being condescending. Most of these voters aren’t Hooterville-dwelling, rabid racist, sexists and homophobic rednecks looking for their next marginalisation. There’s a deeper sense of disempowerment and insecurity in a national and global democratic and economic model no longer fit for purpose for which people like us don’t have a simple yet convincing answer. Many of whom might not agree with Trumpian or Faragian rhetoric or thrust at least find an open ear. The wholesale political reforms that are required need less Hillarys, more Elizabeths and Bernies, and many who have made political choices that we despise. Their votes have to be earned without demanding they conform to every item on our idealistic utopian wish-list. Democracy isn’t a nightclub queue guarded by social media bouncers checking your political dress code.

Politics is ultimately about power: who has it, why they have it, what they use it for and how to change it. Change requires listening to different views, learning to think from different perspectives and arguing a case rather than curling up into a ball and shouting ‘safe space.’ Participating in politics means being confronted with people we dislike or hate and if that we can’t learn to coexist or engage, then Donald Trump is the perfect consequence when our political brands and self-enforcing algorithms matter more than what other people think.

RED VANILLA SWIRL

cherryvanillaswirl_17

Having signed up as a Labour supporter two weeks ago, I’m no closer to deciding between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith. Neither candidate will likely solve Labour’s problems and, rather than a real debate of ideas, the leadership election has been defined by mutual loathing, with rival supporters tearing cyber chunks out of each other on social media and news comment feeds. While Corbyn fans on Twitter seem more adept at this, at least it says a lot about Corbyn as a candidate worth fighting for. The passion that Corbyn inspires has brought 200,000 new members and transformed Labour into a grassroots movement with an energy not seen since Tony Benn during the 1980s. Enthusiasm among young people provides a lesson to youth voter turnout campaigns worldwide: you need to feel something.

Yet both sides are descending into an unquestioning worship of their corresponding political spirit animals.

I fear we are unreasonable projecting onto Corbyn an image of a perfect socialist messiah on whom we depend rather than principled policies that his team must promote more effectively. Where policies don’t exist, we take comfort in his glow and curse doubters. At worst, we’ve co-opted him as our trending political brand. A bearded, scruffy anti-politician who oozes vintage socialist-chic as our ironic anti-establishment statement but could end up as out of vogue as the pair of maroon Topshop trousers sitting at the bottom of our wardrobes. As a result, we can be too content with our social media and rally-based validation bubble to acknowledge valid concerns with Corbyn’s leadership abilities and outreach to Labour’s regional, working class English former base. The volume of complaints from former Shadow Cabinet ministers and his economic advisory team members – from lack of political, economic and media strategy to personal blunders – are too large to dismiss as political and media collusion. Critics of all stripes – even soft-leftists or allies like Owen Jones – are accused of treachery. Smith himself is too readily accused of being a pharma-corporate Blair – something of an insult to both his good work as Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary and to working and middle class voters employed by corporations who would feel uncomfortable with such career purism. If Labour is to become the grassroots juggernaut that Corbyn envisions, then he cannot be infallible and must be held the same standard as we hold Smith. Internal dissent for his more questionable decisions can only make the movement stronger.

Ironically, Owen Smith’s campaign is a cult of anti-personality. His main problem is still ‘Owen Who?’ – an unknown who generates little enthusiasm among his supporters. This isn’t Smith’s fault. He seems an interesting, smart, skilled, dedicated politician but this is no longer enough compared to Corbyn. During the last leadership election, Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper as calculating, talking point-spouting human cyborgs of Westminster ruined leadership chances for all former Blair and Brown special advisors. Smith as Burnham 2.0 is a vast improvement but provides nowhere near Corbyn’s principled authenticity. He is the Remain campaign of leadership candidates in that no one is passionate about the project but are more driven by fear of the consequences of losing to those whose supporters they deemed ignorant, hysterical and unrealistic. Like with Brexit, this won’t work. As the establishment candidate – with over 80% backing from the PLP and mainstream media commentators – it is difficult for Smith to win support from members who feel ignored and currently denigrated by many of his political and pundit backers. The movement around Smith opposes Corbynism but responds with a Corbynite policy platform wrapped in a bouquet of condescension and vagueness that to many signals a return to top-down, professional politics that Labour members despise. Old approaches are unconvincing in a post-Global Financial Crisis, Scottish nationalist, post-Brexit Britain.

For me, this is a battle between my inner socialist and inner pundit in which I will seek to avoid absolutes. Corbyn isn’t perfect nor will Theresa May garrotte a weakened Labour to death in a ditch unless they follow a bland, outdated conventional political checklist. Regardless of who wins, to keep Labour together and viable the party leadership must equally inspire passion, listen and give real power to party members and run a smart operation that plans ahead and reacts swiftly. Call it a ‘red-vanilla swirl’ for a party that united that to stay together – at least for now – must be equal parts red and vanilla.

BORIS JOHNSON ISLINGTON CYCLIST FLASHMOB MENTALITY

IMG_0463

On my morning commute today, I stopped to see the gathered press and crowd outside Boris Johnson’s house in Islington, who was greeted with some cheers and mostly shouts of ‘wanker’ on his quick dash to a waiting car that whisked him away for the first day of his possible ascendency to the premiership. Then, in a quintissentially British comedic moment, his car pulled up to the traffic lights at a cyclist-crowded intersection, who proceeded to shake their fists, berate and refuse to let him pass – only cleared away by police a few minutes later. Such a vitriolic reaction is expected in pro-Remain Islington – the home of the political establishment including Boris, Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn – this would be far less likely outside London.

Remain ran a terrible campaign that failed to appeal to peoples’ real daily concerns, instead thinking that a combination of complex economic statistics that no one understood and were difficult to verify, would rationalise the people into voting Remain. By default, this favoured the Leave campaign, who appealed to everyday examples of perceived personal powerlessness such as alleged EU powers to regulate banana bunches and immigration changing the country while Boris and Nigel – disingenuously – offered us our independence back. This was a truly great failure of the political establishment from David Cameron to Jeremy Corbyn and many on the left to truly understand both the political and social divisions within the country.

This is a symbolic divide between London and other large, cosmopolitain cities and the regions – between geographically close locations such as Labour-voting Hackney and Islington and UKIP stronghold town of Clacton-On-Sea. London and regional Britain appear to be different countries with distinctive concerns, experiences and priorities. Brexit confirmed a perception of London as a centre of unaccountable, dysfunctional economic and political power who care little for those outside – an attitude we regularly prove with an open, tolerated contempt. Birmingham is widely known as a terrible place though few of us have actually been. The North is supposedly full of loutish white trash based on football riots and Oasis. Unless the Guardian has done a travel section article on these locations and their bespoke raw food tapas bars, we do little to engage or understand them.

This isn’t isolated to Britain but a worldwide problem among many liberals and leftists from large, cosmopolitain cities who cannot fathom the depth of different experiences and problems of areas outside their immediate confines. Brexit and anti-immigration, Nigel and Boris – these are symptoms of a wider economic and political malaise in which political and economic establishment are gaining too much unaccountable power and tend to be synonymous with the most powerful cities. Many in London, New York, Melbourne, Auckland, Paris, Berlin and others need to take a long, hard look at themselves. Are the ‘common people‘ who we claim to care about only valuable to us to the degree that they think, act, read, listen to the same music, read the same books and use the same analytical frameworks like us? If this is the case, then we are merely elitists who live in in a not dissimilar bubble to the Boris Johnsons and rich kids of Instagram who we criticise for being out of touch.

Predictably, we spent today in a state of defensiveness from insinuations that Brexiters are obese, uneducated, racist chavs, tacky nouveau riche and inbred aristocracy or threats to move to Scotland. Now should be a challenge to try and understand why people outside London might be angry. This transcends fears about immigration as a means for those who want their voices to be heard to be taken seriously. Conservatives worldwide are more successful at this because they are less judgemental of peoples personal tastes and attitudes and are better at finding ways to unite disparate groups under promises of employment, security and consumer freedom. Socialist saviours such as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders don’t matter if they and we cannot reach beyond our comfort zones and conceive of people beyond their alleged racism, sexism and conservatism as human beings. Political and social change won’t happen with a narrative of ‘everything is shit and your beliefs are stupid’ but through real dialogue and attempts to systematically address our problems together.

Brexit Britons aren’t stupid and their lives are meaningful rather than afflictions to be overcome but as valuable as ours. Former US Presidential candidate Howard Dean once spoke of the need to address the needs of everyone, to great criticism at the time. “I’m going to go to the South and say to White guys who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag details…. ‘We want your vote too because your kids don’t have health insurance either.” If attitudes do not change, then Boris Johnson is going to be perpetually surrounded by Islington cyclist flash mobs during what could be a long tenure as Prime Minister.

MAX POWER

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 02.02.39
‘You say that you hate Max Key, but I think you mean you hate most 20 year olds’

@bigmoneyfinance

I can’t help but think that Max Key would be far less despised if he was gay. At least we’d see him as an unthreatening, liberated party boy rather than the son of a popular, skilful, trickster Prime Minister. Twitter becomes angry any time he does anything public, so his recent Remix Magazine photo shoot justifies our Freudian hatecrush, whose exposure of exposed muscular chest has ruined our libidos.

This is desperation and helplessness under a popular National Government in action: unable to influence politics, we target our frustration at political leaders and their children’s appearances, bodies and accents in a way we would normally scream body/ fat/ slut/ class shaming.

I’ve always found it ironic in how my political and generational contemporaries react to Max Key’s vanity. There’s arguably little difference between Max Key’s Instagram account and photoshoot with our exotic holidayed, bikini bod and sunbathed leg shot, locally-sourced prosecco potluck, LP-playing, cycling weekend-infested Instagram and Twitter accounts. The digital generation and anyone digitally savvy enough readily indulges in promoting their political, musical, fashion, cooking, sport and sexual tastes, but at the same time are equally motivated to simply share and live publicly, even if they’re occasionally overbearing.

Yet, perhaps we too easily rely on promoting our personal political brand values in direct opposition to those we despise, like the Ya Ya Club or Max Key. They have become lightning rods for everything we despise – privilege, wealth, inequality and even lung cancer. There’s a degree to where I can understand why progressive values often fail to gain public traction. Often the loudest supporters appear to be just as shallow and mean as those they claim to oppose. If Max Key is truly an awful garbage person, then we all are; we just do it with less money and promote different political and consumer lifestyle choices.

His faults can far more easily be blamed on media culture. A social media personality with dreams of stardom is behaving just like we would expect him to and his name is viral on social media and news outlets thanks to politically-motivated rage, while Remix Magazine and George FM are commercial media outlets motivated to increase their audience share and profits. If the arts and media are driven by infotainment and networking, then find solace in the Radio NZ/ Guardian bubble or learn to live with all forms of media. Oppose the system that gave X Factor NZ on Air funding and keep this in mind when the inevitable Max Key reality TV series gets commissioned. The heart of this matter is that fanatical fury and condescension against a socialite son of a Prime Minister will not defeat the National Government and usher in a new age of equality and justice, nor would any of us appreciate being in the position where we are an extension of our parents’ actions.

PRIVSPLAINING

RUCHECK

If I said, “Boy, I really love corn dogs!” it doesn’t mean I actually love a corn dog. Because love has nothing to do with corn dogs. But it’s just language. It’s a state of mind. You take for granted that my intention is really to express that I enjoy them a lot and I want to eat one right now. That’s what it’s meant to do. But if you have an agenda and you want to take my sentence apart, you could certainly say, “Oh, my God! You love a corn dog? What do you mean by that? Do you want to marry it? Do you want to put it inside of you?” It’s like, “That’s not what I meant and you actually know that’s not what I meant and you’re only using it because you have an agenda so that you could get attention for whatever reason you have.”

-RuPaul

We face daily pressure to behave according to gender, race and sexual norms, so it’s ironic that we use the same progressive values that aim to challenge these norms as a new standard of conformity.

In my pretty middle class, inner-city suburban existence, progressive values are mostly a given and something we strive to prove on a daily basis, not only as a personal aspiration but also for social credibility. It usually takes little to align this social-political algorithm, just the occasional Facebook post of a Ta-Nehisi Coates article or an Instagrammed Green Party ballot selfie every election.

Equally important is to avoid accusations of the opposite: racism, misogyny, classism, homophobia or transphobia, the recriminations of which are amplified in the digital age. As a result, personal ‘brand’ purity has become a dogmatic virtue. Our social media identities increasingly resemble political agendas, where our worth and effectiveness is measured by our ability to identify and call out marginalisation and privilege in face-to-face and online feeds. We’re easily wound-up and prone to react, with the onus always on the other, readily diagnose statements with ‘White, cisgendered straight male privilege’ – the predictive text judgement of these times – and respond to skepticism with privsplained logic akin to Hare Krishna or Scientologist street-bothering screed. Our focus has shifted from concrete political, legislative and social change to battles over academic and campus experiences. So dedicated to our new approach that proven allies who oppose our blanket judgements are criticised as enemies and the context of good satirical TV comedy is misinterpreted humourlessly.

These social media scraps against moral depravity is, in my view embarrassingly similar to those of the moral right – the same talkback callers, social conservatives and religious activists whose moral panic on welfare, sex and violence on TV, sacrilegious art and the role of certain musicians in social breakdown we snidely deride. Like them, we fear morally permissive values as driving bad behaviour and seek open confrontation to judge perceived transgressions. Like many born-again evangelists, there’s a tendency to blame others for preventing utopia. While certainly a combination of class, race, gender and sexuality reflect certain overall privileges or disadvantages, privilege, to me, is like meditation or prayer – a good exercise in self-reflection and contemplation of the state of the world. Yet, diagnosing others according to broad formulas that often rely on blanket assumptions simplifies complex individual human motivations and experiences and can easily misinterpret opinions and language without context.

Actions motivated by moral zealotry are always driven by political agendas. As social media users with the ability to play the role of moral arbiters in public, too frequently we act disproportionate to the situation and context to justify our political outlook and to accumulate gravitas as legitimate commentators – including those white, straight, middle class cisgendered males who appropriate others’ experiences. In a New Yorker article on this issue, the generational gap between an English lecturer at Oberlin College in Ohio and her students was noted: Her generation, she said, protested against Tipper Gore for wanting to put warning labels on records. “My students want warning labels on class content, and I feel—I don’t even know how to articulate it,” she said. “Part of me feels that my leftist students are doing the right wing’s job for it.” Moral politics is ironically turning us into the very people we oppose.

Humanity chafes under moral conformity and history shows progress tending towards the blurring of gender, sexual and racial norms. Feminism, LGBTI and ethnic rights movements have made gains because they have rebelled against such conformity. Not only through protest but by developing concrete goals for bold political, legal, economic and cultural change, working with similarly-minded allies – many of whom they disagreed with on many issues – they have gradually won widespread public support.

Surely, genuine public belief in progressive ideals is more preferable, which depends on opposing moral panic of any political stripe. While real bigotry is inexcusable and should be challenged, not every perceived slight is worth a reaction nor every bigot merely the value of their transgression or their perceived privileges. Rather than replace one set of moral norms with social algorithm and forumla as another, real change must question all norms.

IF WE REALISE OUR TECHNOLOGICAL POWER WE CAN RECLAIM DEMOCRACY

Imagine if democratic participation were as simple as a Facebook like – an everyday expression with real political weight. In times of strong anti-immigration and anti-welfare sentiment this is risky for some but to others it’s inevitable. Digital technology, they argue, is undermining political and corporate power in favour of citizens empowered by smartphones.

At the forefront of this are technology-driven activists working with some of the most prominent internet entrepreneurs to prepare for digital democracy. Democracia En Red (Net Democracy) was founded in 2012 by politically-disillusioned Argentinians who saw digital technology as key to revitalising politics. Co-founder Pia Mancini summarises the challenge simply: ‘We are 21st century citizens doing our very, very best to interact with 19th century-designed institutions that are based on information technology of the 15th century.’ They created DemocracyOS, an online platform that allows citizens to debate and vote ideas, with the goal of legislatures and parties using it to crowdsource policy proposals. Finding little enthusiasm, they started Partito De La Red (Net Party) to run in the Buenos Aires legislative elections in 2013 on a platform of elected representatives being bound by DemocracyOS user decisions. After a colourful campaign, it achieved 1% of the vote yet convinced the city legislature to adopt DemocracyOS, soon passing crowdsourced legislation guaranteeing better conditions for nurses. DemocracyOS then gained funding from Silicon Valley venture capitalists Y-Combinator and was adopted by the Mexican Government for an online information law, American city councillors, and Latin American NGOs.

For their next project, last year co-founders Mancini and Santiago Siri teamed up with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Google News founder Krishna Bharat, and Bitcoin creator ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ to start Democracy Earth Foundation to make the internet the primary means of political and economic transaction.

A former teenage Marxist turned Wall St tech entrepreneur, Siri returned to politics when he realised the potential of digital technology as an inseparable part of daily life – especially for young people. He notes in his native Argentina, ‘If you actually go to the poorest slums in Buenos Aires, you will see teenagers and young people being connected with their smartphones. They do not have access to potable water, they do not have access to electricity sometimes, but they do have a cellphone that connects them to the world.’ Rather than apathetic Millennials, Siri see a ‘Digital Generation’ who use non-electoral means to engage. ‘They take action on Reddit, they take action on Twitter, they do petitions on change. Let’s say voter turnout on the internet is higher among the young.’

Revolutionary technological innovations have historically undermined ruling interests. Siri cites the printing press, before which ‘only certain priests in certain monasteries were able to read and write and even the scribes of the church were human photocopiers who didn’t understand the symbols that they were drawing in books.’ Now, media conglomerate and political collusion to control information is being undermined by new media. As television revealed Vietnam War horrors, Youtube, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden expose political gaffes, mass surveillance and alleged war crimes. Siri says ‘the internet is able to expose multiple points of view, it’s able to start getting people to realise that there is no objective truth to reality and I think that the internet is more than just a way of communicating.’

Recent innovations like Uber and AirBnb that undermine whole industries will happen to politics, argues Siri. ‘Government, big banks will start looking like the way we see the Catholic church: fascinating rituals but interesting like reality shows with fascinating characters. Yet more and more real power will be put on the internet and traditional institutions will look like an inheritance in our civilisations past rather than our civilisations future.’ This, he believes, relies on prioritising coding in schools. As individual blocks of information expressed through numerical values, code can build digital structures with multiple functions like Facebook or mobile banking. People would become their own politicians, debating and voting on workplace decisions to government spending.

Political establishments are fighting back through attempts to control online data such as NSA data storage and recent FBI attempt to unlock the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone. However, Siri believes decentralisation will win. ‘Historically we rely on centralised, monopolistic organisations like government and banks to mediate trust for us in society, but certainly now with the rise of this new generation of technologies, having trust being mediated in a decentralised way opens a lot of interesting debates about how institutions can get built and what leadership and authority means.’

Simultaneously, Siri disagrees with corporate ownership of identity. ‘Facebook manages more identities than many of the governments I know. Today we give away our identities so we can get these services for free and we get advertising.’ Democracy Earth’s solutions is Blockchain: a personally-owned digital identity for all transactions that allows anonymity. ‘You sometimes want to do things showing your public image and sometimes you want to remain anonymous. To engage or interact with a corporation or large company without exposing the private information that you do not want to expose’


Reclaiming democracy relies on realising our technological power. Siri sees us like the monastic scribes, unaware what the printing press would bring. ‘They were like human photocopiers unaware that the symbols that they were able to copy they were able to read, then they became aware of their power. We are all using our cellphones right now unaware of the power we have in our hands.’

Originally published in Disclaimer Magazine