The Pirate Party Sets Sail

When people hear Pirate Party, they generally think I mean a party with pirates. When I clarify that the Pirate Party is a political organization, they generally think I’m kidding.

A typical pirate party.

The Pirate Party is an actual thing, both here in the US and more significantly in Europe where it originated.

The first Pirate Party rose up in Sweden in 2006 and has since spread throughout western Europe and across the ocean to America. In 2009, the European Union had its first Pirate Party seat in Parliament after the Swedish Pirate Party secured over 7% of the Swedish national vote. This year, the Icelandic Pirate Party actually led Iceland’s national polls, the first time in Iceland’s history that a new party gained such popular support.

When I heard that the Yale Political Union had a new party, the Pirate Party, my first question was whether the members would wear pirate costumes to debates.

They do.

And then I wondered what the party’s ideology centered around. Each of the YPU’s parties generally center themselves around some core ideas about society and institutions. I assumed that Yale’s Pirate Party had a set of values similar to other Pirate Parties, which unite around an idea of openness regarding digital content and ideas (the first Pirate Party came into being because of opposition to a copyright law).

As I sat down with one of the Yale Pirate Party’s founders, Alex Reinking, I found this was not the case.

“You’re a computer science major,” I commented, assuming that this had a clear connection to the Yale Pirate Party’s agenda. I think that there is a definite stereotype that CS majors pirate content online more than most people. To be able to pirate content effectively and safely (i.e. through a VPN) usually requires some experience with technology that the average American might not possess. People who go into CS often have the technological experience that lends itself to effective pirating, and thus they are usually the founders/supporters of international Pirate Parties that embrace policies making it legal to pirate content.

When I asked Reinking what the point of the Pirate Party was if not to address typical Pirate Party ideology, he replied nonchalantly:

“[There’s] not enough space for seafaring hearts.”

My interpretation: the Pirate Party is an awesome excuse to dress up as a pirate in a formal setting. It’s brilliant for all who love pirates and go into post-Halloween costume withdrawal.

Reinking described the party demographic as incredibly mixed, with members holding political views on the extremes of the right and left and anywhere in between. He stated that while around 30% of the party’s members are CS majors, this is because both he and co-founder Dani Dickstein are CS majors and invited their friends to join the party.

Perhaps a key element differentiating the Pirate Party from other YPU groups is its general atmosphere. Reinking described the party as a place for “serious debates with silly people.” He noted that the other political parties can take themselves too seriously. He wanted a party to provide relief amidst all the tension, to facilitate “solid, cogent arguments in an informal, nonjudgmental setting.”

No judgment here.

And what better way to achieve said ambiance than by dressing up as pirates and speaking like shiphands?

Reinking rattled off all the newly-instituted pirate-themed party traditions. For instance, weekly resolutions (topics for weekly intraparty debates) must contain a pirate pun. A few weeks back the party debated whether or not there should be a drinking age under the title of “Rum is Right.”

Additionally, the party talks in piratespeak. “Yar” and “ahoy matey” are staples in greetings and conversations, along with the iconic pirate accent. Party positions are also themed. The Social Chair is The Parrot. The Treasurer is the Boatswain. Co-founder Dickstein is Captain and Reinking is Quartermaster. Toasts (a YPU tradition where a party’s members get together and drink from a communal chalice and share stories) are referred to as Shanties.

The next new Shanty tradition.

When arriving at the general Tuesday YPU debate (where all parties of the YPU convene to debate a topic), the Pirate Party members arrive decked out in pirate hats (provided by the party) and other pirate-themed regalia. Reinking typically wears a pirate costume for full effect. The party dresses like this to all party functions.

Pirate hats make everything better.

Because the general YPU debate has many parties, parties tend to separate along right/left lines in the room; accordingly, the Pirate Party refers to left-leaning and right-leaning parties as “Port” and “Starboard” parties. While other parties have traditional flags with their party’s name essentially on a piece of colored felt, the Pirate Party flag is a Jolly Roger.

Look at her fly.

So, essentially, if you want to join an actual Pirate Party along the ideology of the international movement, sail to Europe. If you like pirates and enjoy discussing important topics in an informal setting with a lot of fun, laid-back people, the Yale Pirate Party may be for you. Check it out. Get a pirate hat.