An open source political party?

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Do you like the concept of an open source political party?
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That's the same question that crossed my mind when I came across this site. Highlighted in green at the top, "Liberty, Democracy, Transparency!" So far so good. But is this for real?

One of my favorite things about working at Red Hat is a very prominent "take the ball and run with it" attitude that persists because of the open source way. If you're passionate about something--do it. See if you can get people to do it with you and make it better. And I think that's what this Open Source Party concept is about.

My curiosity got the best of me. I started looking into the different resources mentioned on the Open Source Party site. I reached out to the media contacts to find out more, and Trevor Tomesh responded. Whether you think the Open Source Party will take over the world or it's just a vision for a few passionate people who want a different political world, hear what Tomesh has to say in my interview with him.


I'm Trevor Tomesh, and I helped co-found the new International Open Source Party with R.U. Sirius. I am a BSc in Physics and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin - River Falls, and am currently working towards my PhD in Computing. I am a firm believer in the freedom of information and open source principles not only in software design, but in academia, governance, and culture. Open source is my code of ethics.

The Open Source party, as it stands, is an exploratory group. We have varying ideas as to how we should approach it. Personally, I believe that we should use Raymond's "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" as the starting point for our platform.

Originally the "Open Source Party" was formed around R.U.'s essay: The Open Source Party Proposal. The original idea went into remission until I read R.U.'s essay and emailed him about reviving it. Give the original essay a read.

Also, a new essay was published by R.U. on the revival of the Open Source Party in h+: Open Source Party 2.0: Liberty, Democracy, Transparency!

We have a website (although it has not seen as much action since the introduction of the Facebook group.)

Tell our readers about the Open Source Party. What is it and what are you looking to accomplish?

We are an exploratory net-roots campaign to re-envision the world political system and government as an open source exercise in democracy rather than what it has become -- to a large extent, an oligarchy of the super-rich, and a playground for mega-corporations aimed at optimizing goals other than human good. See R.U. Sirius's article in H+ Magazine for more information.

Is the Open Source Party movement related in any way to Occupy Wall Street?

Officially, we have no involvement with the Occupy Wall Street movement. However, I would be bold enough to guess that the vast majority of our members do support the movement.

What role do you think open source plays in government?

The American government, currently? None. The American government, as with many western governments, is run under an opaque, closed-source, almost corporate model. Of course, there is the illusion of democracy, but the ability for the people to choose our leaders is no more democratic than the Pepsi corporation allowing Mountain Dew fans choose the new flavor. Think about it.

Now, what role should open source play in government? Well, that's what our entire party is about...coming up with an answer to this question. Of course, there are various answers from various members as to how to utilize open source principles. I am personally of the view that the old system should be completely replaced with a new model based on Raymond's essay.

How do you see the Open Source Party interacting with the Open Government Partnership?

Well, our goals are the same: Transparency and accountability. We approach "Open Governance" at a more literal angle. However, as with all good open source projects the Open Source Party thrives on cooperation.

How does someone get involved with the Open Source Party?

Simple. Join the Facebook group and ask what you can do!

What do you think about the Open Source Party?

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Marjana's picture

Pirate Party comes very close. And they also understand open source and open standards and why they matter. And if I'm not mistaken they also work in an opensource way.

jhibbets's picture
Open Source Sensei

Do you think the Pirate Party gets dinged because of their name?

Harald Milz (Red Hat)'s picture

Jason, this used to be so here in Europe. Especially in DE, the Pirate Party has gained a lot of hype since the summer of 2009, and they actually won a couple of seats in some regional and local parliaments. It remains to be seen how they will do in the next federal elections in 2013 but if the trend continues, the Liberal Democrats (FDP) will be out and the Pirates will be in.

Enrique Herrera Noya's picture

aquí Pirate Party International
en mas de 50 paises

stites's picture
Open Source Champion

The open source method is probably a good way to organize a democratic political party. But the method of organization says nothing about the political stances taken by the resulting party. Rather than organizing a party and then trying to come up with a political platform it would be better to join a political party whose platform you agree with and try to get that party to reform itself to run on open source principles.

Without stating any opinion on the Tea Party political platform, I would like to say that the Tea party is the party in the United States that comes closest to being run on open source principles.

Steve Stites

Colin Hope-Murray's picture
Open Minded

Should the open methodology have a political agenda? Absolutely. But a separate political party would detract from the level of influence needed to educate and persuade current and future business, professional and political leaders on the wisdom and benefits of open practices. As Steve Sites points out a party platform demands a set of policies and stances that could divide and alienate support. The open methodology predicates neither a conservative or liberal tendency as both left and right viewpoints can be accommodated. This might appear advantageous but could also suggest ambivalence, which appears to be anathema to the American voting public.

What is important, however, is that the movement promotes open thought and action in all aspects of life, much in the way this blog does by covering education, health, law as well as government and business. By establishing a party to change the current system you invite resistance and opposition, it is far better to change the system from within, and convince those currently in power that their interests are better served through open methods. It is better still if you can get them to think that they are the authors or initiators of the open way.

Colin Hope-Murray!/CHopeMurray

Bryan J Smith's picture

An open standards political party would be a better move. Because instead of a platform that open source is better, you challenge commercial entities that their software is more open. It takes the mandate of open source out of the equation, and replaces it with a merit-based competition.

Yes, there will still be commercial entities that "play the game" on open standards. But having peers that review and call out what is an open standard, and what is not, goes a long way. And it does it without locking out responsible, commercial vendors.

I'm a 100% proponent of open source. But there are some excellent, responsible entities that produce closed source software that actually does open standards very well. The original concept of proprietary was meant to mean long-term value. Unfortunately, many proprietary vendors have gone the route of lock-in, hostageware and, gasp, even purposeful abandonware (forced upgrades and related incompatibility).

We need to separate the true open standard believers, both open source and commercial, from those who are not focused on open standards, or taint open standards. We'll find more support in those areas.

Just my view.

KTrimbach's picture

This is silly. An open source political party has no meaning. Adding an open-source component to an existing political party would be a good idea, but outside of the idea that 'information is free', what else could it bring to the table.

An open-source project about re-imagining government has some possibilities, but only if people could come to some sort of agreement about how to govern people. Unfortunately, this requires some sort of agreement about human nature which is precisely the problem with our current (US) government - the parties have distinctly different views of human nature that cause them to support radically different policies.

Bryan J Smith's picture

One can have a political party and action committee without offering a candidate for an office. And such a political party can endorse candidates of other parties, as well as lobby representatives for action.

As far as "problem with our current (US) government," I see no less than 228 years of American civics where the people, their representatives, the press and the greater constituency have always had not only their differences, but their own, self-generated issues. I.e., the issues aren't very different today, and politicians have always been influenced by the media as well as citizens who have organized themselves into action committees.

The idea of the "social contract" was extensively discussed during the Second Continental Congress, whether freedom and capitalism were compatible. Ultimately they resolved that no commercial endeavors could be limited, as it would affect the farmer as much as the trading company. Of course, there were countless lobbyists for various entities, and we've had committees and lobbyists ever since.

In the end, I find most of the time, politicians and political parties actually represent more of the populous than people want to admit.

konenas's picture

Democracy is the solution.
Democracy with a capital D
Power from the people, to the people without any representatives.

Eric Newcomb's picture

Joining an existing political party is not a viable answer. Every attempt at changing things from within in US politics has resulted in those trying to effect change being swallowed up with little to no difference being made. The Tea Party was coopted by the Republican party, the Green Party was swallowed by the Democracts. If this group is to have any chance at changing things, or even at educating people about open government or open education, it must remain separate from the existing system.

Further, to affiliate itself with an existing political party in the US would keep some people from having anything to do with the group. Association with the Tea Party would imply that everyone in the group is ultraconservative, which would keep liberal minded people away. Association with the Democrats would keep conservatives away. That's not what we're about. You can't effect change by doing what's always been done.

tjenright's picture
Community Member

This is a great idea, but given that the US system is designed to only allow votes between two parties all a third party does it highlight issues. However, in my opinion every vote for a candidate who does not have a chance of winning, from either party, is a vote againt that party's interests.

jhibbets's picture
Open Source Sensei

Great conversation everyone. This was published just before I went on vacation, but it's great to see the different viewpoints, benefits, and drawbacks of this idea.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of the 2-party system in the U.S. and I think applying open source principles to our existing parties could improve some of the trust issues with American politics.

It seems like in this day and age, having a new "party" get any respectful amount of power seems like a long shot. But U.S. History shows a variety of third parties with varying success.

On a global basis, I wonder if an open source party would gain any momentum? A party based on the principles of open source could go beyond borders and politics.


tjenright's picture
Community Member

Jason: You bring up an interesting question about a "global" open source party. While the idea seems to merit thought, unfortunately historically speaking the only party that I can think of that has ever cut across borders was the Communist party. (Please correct me if I'm wrong). The problem is that national identities impact political party values too much for there to be one broad "global" political party that could push forward any policy agenda. In the UN there is the non-aligned movement, but that acts less as a political party and rather more as a nebulous grouping that rarely acts in unison and is often fragmented by allegiances to other countries. Would the NAM be considered akin to a political party?

I don't even believe that there is a single political party in the European Union, which would likely be a testing ground for this idea. Are there any European contributors to this site who could comment on the feasibility or existence of a pan-European political party? Could it work across national lines? How would that impact the political calculations of the EU Parliament? Perhaps a small pan-European political party does exist, which would be an excelletn example.

Many thanks for bringing this great topic into conversation. It's a great example of how open source could go beyond both borders and politics, but I'm not exactly sure how it would work in practice. I look forward to reading more as debate continues.