Campfire 2019 – bonfires and hot debates

by | 15. September 2019

Düsseldorf | 24 tents, 300 speakers and more than 200 slots – the track record of this year’s Campfire Festival was impressive! Together with its partner Mehr Demokratie, the European Public Sphere was also present at Germany’s largest democracy festival. Michelle Becker and Sophie Auffermann are looking back on the events.
On Friday 30 August the time had come. With the Europe Dome in our luggage, we set off for the Campfire Festival in Düsseldorf; a festival for a better society; a festival to think, talk and discuss about life and the future in an increasingly complex world. We were looking forward to exciting conversations and a lively exchange – just like a long evening sitting around a cosy campfire.

The festival was set up directly in front of the North Rhine-Westphalian regional Parliament in Düsseldorf – a nice contrast.

The Europe Dome and its scenery
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Dome Talk at the Campfire Festival
On the one side the not-so-easily accessible building in which decisions are made by a handful of people. On the other side, the festival that aims at breaking down barriers, opening dialogue and talking about issues that affect us all – with as many different people as possible.

The set-up on Friday –  under a clear blue sky – went smoothly. Hence, we were well prepared to develop ideas for a better society and to discuss concrete proposals for implementation under our Dome.

There was enough to talk about. We touched upon global issues, such as democracy in Taiwan and a more democratic Europe. At the same time, attention was also given to local initiatives as talks were held on local opportunities for direct citizen participation, climate protections and the very specific regulations on street development contributions in Germany. Short inputs by specialists and activists served as an introduction to the different topics, providing the basis for the follow-up discussions.

Day 1:

Saturday was hot! The roof of the wooden Dome was covered by a thin, colourful cloth that served as a sun protector. That, in combination with a steady 31+ degrees and a cloudless sky made all participants and speakers sweat a lot. Luckily, the Dome Talk was always well filled. It was also not rare to see a small group of curious people gathered around the entrance of the dome, attracted by the chatter; they stopped, listened for a while, and then either joined in or went their way.

Our first talk was with Caroline Vernaillen, the spokesperson for Democracy International. She talked about Taiwan, direct democracy, and briefly described the country’s historic democratic path, followed by a heated debate on referenda, direct democracy, Taiwanese policy and relations with China.

Following this, the board spokesperson of Mehr Demokratie, Claudine Nierth, informed the participants on civic participation in her talk. She paid particular attention to the issue of Citizens’ Councils.

Under a burning midday sun, the number of visitors to the Campfire Festival decreased. Nevertheless, there were still some people interested in the “More Democracy Talk” with Stefan Padberg, spokesperson for the More Democracy Europe working group, and Daniela Vancic, European Programme Manager for Democracy International.

A topic that came up several times was the wish for more transnational ties within Europe. Participants talked about their desires for more trans-European media, trans-European parties, but also about for strengthening citizens’ participation and for a more democratic European Parliament. For example, the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), should focus more on youth and on reforming and democratising the EU. The will for more democracy and civic participation stood out in this conversation!

Dome Talk in the sunshine
The last conversation of the day “Rome, Taipeh, Seoul, Mexico City – democratic cities as pioneers of citizen participation” with Bruno Kaufmann, global democracy correspondent of the Swiss Radio and Television Broadcasting Company, took place at 5:30 p.m.. The focus was put on direct democracy and the observation that contrary to popular negative perceptions, many positive shifts are taking place in the world with respect to direct democracy!
Opening event of the Campfire

Day 2:

The second day of the festival began at 10 a.m. As you can expect on a Sunday morning, the festival started off calmly – and after the first coffee, we too were awake again and ready for the first presentation on the “Start Cycle” initiative. The initiative calls on politicians to adopt a law stimulating the use of bicycles in North Rhine-Westphalia. What is necessary is a change in mobility structure, through which the bicycle as a means of transportation can be accommodated in the traffic structure of cities.  Interested cyclists quickly gathered under the dome to pitch in.

Whereas everyone agreed that cycling in most cities is dangerous, no one really felt that any meaningful changes are being implemented. But, with over 200,000 signatures collected, the initiative was successful, and we are eager to see what conclusions the regional Parliament will draw from this message.

The next discussion was also touching upon a very relevant issue: climate change. Jörg Rostek, the Managing Director of the Westfalen district executive committee of Bündnis 90/ The Greens talked about citizens’ requests for climate protection and how we can take climate policy into our own hands through local initiatives. Here the participants were encouraged to think about launching their own initiatives to save the climate.

An already familiar subject quickly emerged: transport policy. It was also interesting to see which cities already have declared the climate emergency status and what we can do ourselves if the commune/city in which you live has not yet taken this step.

At the end of the day, our Europe Dome received a visit from the German Taxpayers’ Association of North Rhine-Westphalia, which had launched a popular initiative to abolish street development contributions. The subject, which is not so common in everyday life, turned out to be interesting and led to a heated discussion afterwards. We too simply could not stop thinking about the street development contributions, which is why people were still talking about them in the office.

At 5 p.m., it was closing time, so we dismantled our camp, put everything in our van and returned to Cologne. All in all, we had a very nice weekend at the festival, with interesting lectures and conversations that inspired to reflect.

Dome Talk at the Campfire
Some impressions from our dome-event: