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Digital Strategies: the key to progressive election success

Emily Pfiester

ECDA Co-Director Mar Garcia
ECDA Co-Director Mar Garcia

National elections are ongoing. The European elections are looming. Should we be worried about the future of progressive politics in Europe and what can we do about it? We asked Mar Garcia, Co-Director of the European Center for Digital Action, for her take on the situation.

What’s the overall sentiment for progressive parties in Europe around the upcoming elections?

National parties have not yet woken up regarding European elections. To align the narrative with the European project, they should be coordinating with their alliances all over Europe. They should be strategizing their narratives, policies, and goals. I fear that the outcome of the upcoming European elections is not going to easily bring a progressive majority. I do still hope that we have a progressive majority, but I have a feeling that this is not going to be a regular European election. If you look at the polls, the right and far-right have been increasing in their influence and this is endangering the European project. There should be more awareness on this front.

Any specific examples of the attention and energy being put into the fight for progressive values on a local level?

There is still a big question on the outcome of the recent Spanish elections. Spain has broken all of the projections that the right and far-right had for the elections. Everybody, even Meloni (Italian Prime Minister), had big expectations that VOX (ultra-right group) would be part of the government in Spain and hopefully, it looks like this is not going to happen. This is important as Spain is the fourth largest economy in the European Union and can be seen as a sign of hope, as to how progressives can still counter the majority and the fake solutions that the right and the far-right are spreading. It is also a message to the conservatives, warning them that flirting with the alt-right and their agenda with backlash on human rights and anti-climate policies will ultimately lead them to isolation and further polarization. It will not contribute to strengthening our democracies.

Looking at other upcoming elections we have important events in Slovakia and Poland as well as the presidential elections in Finland taking place next January in which we have the opportunity to elect progressive candidates to counter the far-right. I still have hope for Poland and these other countries in that a pro-democratic and pro-European majority can be reached.

Are there any trends that stick out differently this year compared to other major electoral periods?

Two important factors are playing out in elections, in which the ECDA is also playing a major role.

First, there is the role of digital organizing and the way that politics are playing out in the digital era. There isn’t enough awareness out there yet that digital organizing is the tool to win elections and that it can allow citizens to participate and play a role in politics in the periods in between elections. Progressives are still behind in the “building the movement” aspect. We’d like to encourage progressives to open their minds to allow their supporters to participate in a more regular, daily way with whatever is happening in politics. Here is where digital organizing tactics are key. Here is where the ECDA can play a key role in showing how digital organizing can work.

This is a call to progressives to understand the movement-building approach that digital organizing and the digital era have brought to politics and to recognize that our enemies have already understood this well and are ahead of us in some ways.

The second aspect that will have a big impact is disinformation and the spread of disinformation online. The ECDA is currently preparing a project and working to support progressives in understanding and managing the disinformation strategy that the enemies of the right and far-right are using to reach out to citizens in a very unhealthy and forceful way to get people’s attention.

What are some actions that organizations can do now and over the next few months to support local elections and European-wide progressive initiatives?

A political party in the twenty-first century is an instrument that allows individuals to participate in politics. The party should be the vehicle for achieving shared goals to win political fights regarding progressive values. Progressives also need to understand that in the twenty-first century, digital tools allow parties to make their boundaries more permeable and that it is only with the citizens that we will win in this cultural battle against the backlash of human rights that the alt-right is playing.

There is a cultural battle against already achieved rights in the feminist and gender equality aspects, economic aspects, sexual orientation aspects, and battles against many of our values. Parties alone cannot win these battles. The far-right has understood that the defense of their values cannot be played on their own, and so they have already invited civil society to play in the battle with them. Progressives still need to understand this and that the [digital] tools are here to respond to this fight. The fight that is ahead of us needs to be played by the citizens and with the digital tools that allow us to do this.

It is key to understand that the framework within the digital era has changed and that we need to put the necessary importance on the new threats and ways of fighting disinformation. Having the correct training and recognition of the threats is important, as is the need to go on the offensive and win this difficult fight.

Activists at a protest
Photo: Markus Spiske (Pexels)

What advice do you have for individuals looking to get involved?

We have examples and successful inspirational stories on our website about individuals and progressive organizations. I encourage everyone not to lose hope, that this battle can be won in this current war on gender violence, climate change, LGBTIQ rights, and diversity, and that we are not done. Take a look at the inspirational successes that can be used as a north star. Let’s organize, organize, organize all the relevant groups and stakeholders in our armies. Whenever we feel tired and lost, come to the ECDA we will support you! Feel inspired about what's happening around you! The battle is not over and by far they have not won. We’re here and we’re not giving up.

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