For the fifth year in a row, Innocracy 2021 brought together thinkers and doers from the fields of politics, academia, civil society, as well as arts and culture in Berlin. This year, we explored how we can democratise areas of our societies that are being removed from democratic control. At Innocracy, one aspect became very clear: Any radical change requires strong legitimation through democratic processes. Therefore, the answer to the multiple crises of the 21st century can not be less but only more democracy.
The twenty-first century presents itself as a century of crisis points. Climate change, the financial crisis of 2007/08 or global pandemics are only a few examples of systemic ruptures that leave many to believe: the future is no longer a promise but a threat. Many people feel a sense of powerlessness in the face of these crises that too often seem to be inadequately resolved by today’s liberal democracies. In this light, the crucial belief in progress towards a better future, which has been holding liberal democracies together for the past decades, has become fragmented.
At Innocracy, one aspect became very clear: Any radical change requires strong legitimation through democratic processes. Therefore, for the 2020s to become a decade of transformation, they also need to become a decade of democratisation, as argued in this year’s conference paper Democratising Democracy: No Transformation without Democratisation.
Accordingly, the fifth iteration of Innocracy, Europe’s conference on democratic innovation and transformation, was dedicated to the topic of “Democratising Democracy“. The conference’s key aim was to explore the potential of (re)democratising social fields that have been removed from democratic control or were never organised democratically in the first place and to explore how (re)democratising them could lead to a better future.
Given the ongoing pandemic, Innocracy 2021 was hosted as a hybrid event, incorporating both live presentations and workshops on-site in Berlin as well as livestreamed and online-only sessions. With 200 live participants and over 500 online registrations engaging with around 60 international speakers, the conference’s aim was to bring together a multitude of perspectives, organisations, and individuals from the progressive spectrum.
Revisit selected highlights and find some impressions of Innocracy 2021 below!
Why do we need to democratise our democracies?
Democracies source their legitimacy from the claim that the power lies within those affected by their decisions. However, in his keynote Michael Zürn, Director at the WZB, provided evidence showing that liberal democracies face a two-fold democratic regression, namely a shift from majoritarian to non-majoritarian institutions and the underrepresentation of socio-economically disadvantaged groups. In the subsequent debate with Jan-Werner Müller, Professor of Politics at Princeton University, Rahel Jaeggi, Professor of Practical Philosophy at Humboldt University, reminded the audience that “all aspects of public life should be democratised so that the rules and norms of democracy can be learnt and practised by citizens of all ages and backgrounds”.
What areas of our societies need to be (re)democratised?
In lively debates and visionary talks, one question emerged at the forefront: What does democratising our democracies mean in practice? What are the main deficits of our current democracies and how could we go about addressing them? From the financial system to schools or workplaces, many institutions of our societies lack democratic control or offerings. As part of the inspiring lightning talks session, three fellows from New Urban Progress shared their perspectives on democratising one of the most fundamental areas of human life: cities. Considering issues like extreme weather conditions due to climate change, digitalisation, and housing shortages, it is clear that cities around the world are in dire need of a democratic transformation. This can happen through a number of reforms and innovations, such as participatory community-engaging strategies and open data platforms which put people and their everyday lives first.
Who gets to be part of democratic decision-making processes?
Political equality is a crucial precondition for democracy. Yet, in all liberal democracies, a participation gap can be observed: The rich and privileged are far more likely to participate in democratic processes than the poor and marginalised. How do forms of social and cultural inequality translate into political inequalities? In a lively conversation, expert for anti-racism work and political participation Ouassima Laabich-Mansour and Anna Mayr, editor at DIE ZEIT, explored the topic of political representation through the lense of social and political inequality, bringing the participation gap back on the political agenda. While Mayr emphasised the material conditionality of identities, arguing that “who we are is shaped by money – our dreams, self-worth, political participation” and that “political equality means income equality”, Laabich-Mansour stressed the importance of having “spaces to imagine the future we are fighting for” and concluded: “If we are not the ones imagining them, someone else is doing it for us”.
Language as a democratic gatekeeper: how to talk about fiscal policy?
The experience of the pandemic has vividly exhibited the central role of expansionary fiscal policy in the implementation of a socio-ecological transition on a macroeconomic level. Such policies can stabilise the economy and function as a key lever for enabling a carbon-neutral economy. Yet, the current discourse on fiscal policy lacks a communication strategy and metaphoric language that explains progressive fiscal policy in a way that everyone understands. Presenting political ideas comprehensibly, however, is a democratic prerequisite for equal access and participation. In a conversation chaired by Dezernat Zukunft Director Florian Kern, the economist Carmen Giovanazzi and economic correspondent for DIE ZEIT Mark Schieritz explored the critical role of language in utilising the potential of fiscal policy to shape the socio-ecological transition and raised the question: How can progressives win majorities in the future by finding new metaphors of communicating the need for expansionary fiscal policy?
How does democratisation feel?
Innocracy 2021 saw a particularly authentic touch in the form of its Stories of Democratisation. This new format aimed to supplement the academic engagement with democracy with a more intuitive narrative space for those who carry personal stories of fighting for their rights in the name of democracy: What tangible effects do processes of democratisation have on the people that partake in them? With a broad selection of topics ranging from the democratic co-creation of dance choreographies to unionising efforts in the food-delivery sector, a number of speakers told their stories of real-life successes and failures in the fight to make our systems, politics, workplaces, and cultural institutions more democratic.
How do you picture democratisation?
At the heart of this year’s Innocracy was a very special artistic endeavour: the art exhibition “My Democratisation”. Curated in collaboration between Das Progressive Zentrum and Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft, the exhibition offered an artistic space to 17 unique contributors who were asked to complete the sentences “When I think of democratisation in the future, I think of…”. or “My strongest memory around the feeling of democratisation is…”. The exhibition showcased their perceptions, memories, and hopes around what democratisation means to them personally, charmingly illustrated by Leo Leowald. Find all contributions as well as a video of the exhibition on the website MyDemocratisation.eu.
Last but not least, it is clear: questions of democratic innovation and transformation will not be losing relevance anytime soon. Crucially, our task should be to move from liberal democracy as a state we must defend to democratisation as a process we must develop – because to stabilise democracy is to improve it. We look forward to keeping you updated on Innocracy activities!