Pirate Party plots agenda from Somerville

by Tom Nash on March 15, 2011

A  group plotting to alter the political landscape of Massachusetts has chosen to avoid the trappings of the Democrat-Republican dichotomy in favor of its own label: P, for Pirate.

James O’Keefe, a Somerville resident and past Green-Rainbow candidate for State Treasurer, has chosen the affiliation as the symbol for the party he has founded to seek transparency and privacy reform at both state and local levels. 

“We live in a country founded on the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For many people, those ideals are not real,” the Pirates said in a press release.

Late last month, it became official. Voters can go to City Hall and change their political affiliation to Pirate Party — Elections Chairman Nicholas Salerno said one person has identified as a Pirate so far.

The Massachusetts Pirate Party is only the latest in a movement that has building since 2006, when the original Pirate Party formed in Sweden. An international group of more than 40 parties  saw its official founding in Brussels in 2010. O’Keefe first heard about the party in 2009.

“I looked up their platform and found their ideas meshed well with my own,” O’Keefe said in an e-mail. “I have been using the internet for over 20 years and increasingly I have seen various governments, including our own, try to stifle and censor it.  That the Pirate Party appears to be the only party willing to defend the freedom and openness that the internet offers prompted me to join them.”

So far the party has taken positions against the 90 day Patriot Act extension, which Congress approved last month, and rallied to support WikiLeaks in Boston. In Somerville, O’Keefe said he’d like to see a move toward proportional representation that “would encourage more people to participate and likely result in decisions that better meet the needs and desires of the people of Somerville.”

The group held an organizational meeting at O’Keefe’s home last Sunday, and plans to meet monthly. A Somerville chapter is also in the works, which he said could include Pirate Party members running for office.

“We are currently crafting our municipal platform, but our focus will likely be on opening up city government so it is transparent to all residents, helping our schools and libraries be places that promote innovation and discovery, encouraging students to have more control over their schooling and opposing any efforts to expand the use of surveillance cameras in public places,” O’Keefe added. “Once we have a local chapter we will see who among our members wants to run and whether we want to endorse candidates.”

While there has been debate on whether identifying as pirates is a good political move, O’Keefe said the message is most important.

“It’s a two-edged sword in a sense. I think (the name) can be seen as both not serious, which I believe certainly isn’t the case in terms of the issues that we’re raising and the passion we have about those issues. Over time, as people understand what we’re fighting for and what our message is, that will become less of an issue.”

 “The benefit of such a name is that we have a playful side,” he added. “Politics is certainly no holds barred, and that turns off a lot of people. Using a more playful name shows we’re serious about the issues we’re working on, but it’s useful to show politics can be fun.”

When asked what the attire was like at Sunday’s meeting, O’Keefe noted “Someone did wear an eye patch.”

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