Colombe's 1st anniversary blog - Colombe Cahen-Salvador
A personal history of Volt
Exactly one year ago, we launched Volt (see “The battle for our future”, “Salvation at your doorstep: why we desperately need Volt”). In honour of its first anniversary, let me take you on a short journey retracing the key steps and remembering why we are spending every awaken moment fighting to make this dream a reality.
June 23, 2016: Brexit happened.
No, this was not such a surprise considering the campaign and the situation at hand. However, it was a further blow to a concept - the EU - that is believed to be the best means to achieve peace, security, the highest standard of living, and the respect of human rights, among others (see “a call for Europe”). This came in the context of the rise of populism in the world, the rise of inequalities within and between countries and the rise of hate crimes, among other (see “European Populists and how to Fight them”). For these reasons, Brexit impacted many people more than they thought it would. While complaining over the phone with Andrea about its impact on our lives the morning of the 23rd, he said something that stuck with me: “let’s stop complaining and actually do something that will safeguards what we hold dear.” Yes, sure great idea, but how?
From this moment onwards, the idea of Volt started to emerge: what about a movement that we would start in a single country, and then grow in others? No, this would not have achieved our aim. What about a European movement? No, because Europe is a means to achieve our aim, but cannot be the sole solution: some local problems need local answers. Slowly, with the help of Damian, we started to move in the direction of a movement that would not only exist at the European level, but also in every country on the European territory, to tackle issues at all levels, use best practices to find real solutions, and actually bring about change. As none of us were politicians, one thing that quickly became clear to us is that we should not only aim at changing Europe and its countries, but also the way politics is done.
However, I was still a bit hesitant. Andrea convinced me by telling me this: “Look, I hope we will succeed, but even if we don’t that is not what matters. What matters is that we lay the groundwork to show that this is feasible, that many different countries can work together for a better future for all, and that we can do politics in a good way.”
Very quickly, some basic concepts and values were laid down that we agreed we would work for and around, including the following:
- Our aim is to help people, and we shall act accordingly
- We stand for the respect of human rights, and will not ever compromise on them. This is why human rights are part of our fundamental and foundational values.
- We will not back down from a fight just because it is unpopular, difficult, or would make us loose votes.
- We will apply our own principles to ourselves: it is very easy to say that we want government, countries and others to behave in a particular manner, but who are we if we don’t lead by example?
- We will do this the proper way: we will not play into populist narratives, we will not be an undemocratic movement, we will not be provocative just for the sake of inflaming people, we will not campaign without a programme and strong policies, and so on.
March 29, 2017: the launch and our first year
With the help of a few friends, we launched Volt the day of the triggering of article 50, a year ago. We launched a pan-European progressive movement, present at the European level and in many countries, that wants to revolutionize politics and the way it is done. Volt is neither left or right, neither conservative or liberal: it goes beyond all those classifications.
That’s our pitch, but what does it actually mean?
- Pan European: we are pan-European because we aim at being present in every European country, and at the European level: we believe this is the best way to affect change, by being able to tackle issues everywhere and together. This is what makes us unique: we can inspire ourselves from other countries, look for solutions together, collaborate, and come up with the best possible outcomes, for all. We also all come under the Volt umbrella and can set priorities to fight for together.
- Pro-European: we are a pro-European movement, yes, but that does not mean that we blindly want to move towards a closer Union. We are pro-European while understanding that many aspects of the EU need to be drastically reformed, challenged, and bettered (see our flagship policy “Unite Europe”). For us, Europe is a mean and not an end in itself: our aim is to help, to build on what we have and change what needs to be changed in order to ensure that no one is left behind, that all are guaranteed equal rights and the best standards of living, that we will live in a better world. One of the means to achieve this is, we believe, Europe (as we can see with its track-record). However, it is not the only one.
- Progressive: we advocate and work for progress, change, and social reforms.
- Neither left nor right: we use best practices. This means that we will use a model that works as long as the policy respects our fundamental values, that we check how it will impact those who will be the most affected by it, that it is evidenced-based and follows scientific evidence. We don’t want to cluster ourselves in traditional party clans, as it is unfeasible for a movement that is in more than 23 European countries: apart from the fact that we use best practices, one type of classification does not mean the same thing in different countries.
A big part of who we are is the fact that we want to run on a programme. As a pan-European movement, the question was however raised of how to have coherent programmes at all levels (European, national and local). This is what was decided:
- Policies and programmes are first created at the European level, under our 5+1 challenges. Those are broad guidelines that leave room for adaptation.
- National chapters translate, adapt, prioritize and if needed create new policies. National policies have to be consistent with European guidelines and with other countries: countries can reach a goal in different ways, but they cannot directly contradict one another.
- Any policy created at any level has to comply with our fundamental values (mainly the respect of human rights and others), be evidence-based when evidence exists, and have a ‘vulnerability check’ (meaning verifying the impact it would have on the part of the population it would impact the most). Finally, it should follow best-practices when possible: we never pretend we know everything but look at what works, how we can implement it, or whether we need a drastically different solution.
- All of our policies follow the process we set out as a movement, to ensure that Volters can vote and express their opinion.
All of this is possible thanks to the amazing members we have in our teams: they are from all sectors, all ages, and some are experts in their fields and are at the forefront of change in their professional lives. However, whenever we lacked the competences and expertise to craft certain policies, we held off until we had people with such competences willing to help or join, rather than given an ill-advised response, recognizing that we needed to know more (which is also why we reach out to experts to help and review our policies and use best practices).
March 29, 2018: the future.
It has now been a year since we launched Volt. From a ‘movement’ made of an Italian, a French and a German, where are we now?
- We are now in more than 24 European countries, in more than 50 cities, not counting our expat communities. We have more than 3000 supporters and 1500 members. We started with a Facebook page, we now have more than 20.
- We incorporated the movement in Luxembourg, became a political party in Germany, and are working to do the same in all the other countries.
- We had 3 pan-European events (July – Milan; October – Berlin, January – Bucharest) and will have our 4th one in May in Paris. We are holding our first rounds of national assemblies all over Europe and held more than 200.
- We started getting press coverage extensively (here, here, here, here etc)
Apart from those impressive numbers, we focused on having a sound internal structure, that enables us to be as democratic as possible, effective and fair. For this, we had our first internal elections, voted on our policies (and continue to do so), and created a taskforce to lead by example, that is coming up with guidelines and proposals for the movement to ensure that we live by our values, are inclusive and do not only put forward proposals but actually implement them within the movement. As an example, the board of Volt Europa cannot have people who hold the same nationality, and all three board members cannot be from the same gender. Additionally, we are putting in place an external conflict resolution body that will be mandated with reviewing claims of inappropriate and discriminatory behaviour, violence and/or sexual harassment, following our policy “Bridge the Gender Gap” that advocates for such measures in the workplace.
So, what’s next?
We have big plans: we want to start by being elected at the European Parliament in May 2019, in at least 7 countries and with 25 MEPs, to be the first ever independent pan-European party. This does not mean that we will solely run at European elections: we plan to run at national, regional, and local elections simultaneously. We are not aiming to be elected for the sake of it: we believe that by being an independent movement, we will be able to achieve real change and push our programme in united manner at the European level, while doing the same at the national and local level.
Reflecting on the last years working on Volt, and having talked to many of you, what keeps on coming back to me is the importance of not losing track of the reasons for which we are doing all of this. As cheesy as it sounds, the reason is to help people, and make Europe a better place, if not the world. By Europe I do not mean the EU, but every single country, region, city and town. Yes, we already grew so much and have a lot of potential, but what is it worth if we become just another political party that is solely hungry for power and fame? What makes us us is that we care. We care so much that we have thousands of people working for free in their spare time to ensure that things actually change. This is why volt is so unique, and we have seen it at our events. The reason for this is that we are all here for the same reason, and we may not always agree at first on the means to achieve it, but we agree on the aim. This is translated in practice by always reaching a compromise and finding a solution despite discussing extremely hot topics with more than 100 people from more 20 countries, with different backgrounds, ages. We debate, we discuss, we disagree, but we don’t fight.
Every time I meet all of you at our events, I come out with an enthusiasm, motivation, and hope that is electrifying (yes, our name is very fitting). For this I want to thank you, and want to ask you yet another favour: never lose this passion, never give up, and never forget why you are doing this.