Moving beyond mobilization: Hungary knows how to protest

Attila Kisbenedek /AFP/Getty Images

By Ben Knight, co-founder, @Loomio @benjaminmknight 

Yesterday, 100,000 people mobilized in the streets of Budapest, in response to a proposed tax on Internet access.

“The Internet tax is a symbol of the government’s authoritarianism – we not only need to defeat the Internet tax, we need to believe that we are capable of criticizing and influencing the state.’
– Zsolt Varadi, speaking out in a crowd of close to 100,000 protesters in central Budapest yesterday.

Two years ago, large-scale protests in Hungary against education cuts turned very rapidly into a civic movement against an increasingly authoritarian government.

In early 2012, Loomio was still in closed beta and we weren’t accepting new signups. All we had was a rough prototype, and our tiny team had no capacity to support new users. One Tuesday morning in February, a group request came in from a network of Hungarian student activists, who said they wanted to use Loomio because they were democratically organising in opposition to radical government education cuts.

I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but I couldn’t resist accepting the group request anyway. They got set up, rapidly became active, and within a few days had engaged hundreds of students from around Hungary in deliberative discussion about what action they could take.

The next day, we got a group request from a network of professors, teachers and academics, organising in solidarity with the Hungarian university students.

Again, I couldn’t help but approve the group. they started organising and built momentum, rallying in support of the university students.

The day after that, we got a request from a nationwide network of Hungarian high school students, organising democratically to express their objections to government’s proposed education cuts. The same thing happened. Within days, they had translated the whole Loomio app into Hungarian.

Over the next weeks, new groups formed, and hundreds of university students, academics, high-school students, teachers, professors came together to engage in the hard work of citizen deliberation and participatory democratic decision-making – co-creating the shared purpose of their movement, their principles, their strategy, right down to the daily logistics of civic protest organising.

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