Interview: Mareike Nieberding from DEMO

Portrait: Jonas Feige

“DEMO”, founded by Mareike Nieberding, wants to dare for more democracy

Mareike Nieberding was born in the Lower Saxonian district of Vechta in 1987. She’s lived in Berlin since 2006, where she studied literature and journalism before attending the Deutsche Journalistenschule in Munich for further studies in editing. As a freelance writer, she contributes to Die Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, and Neon. She is also working on a book on father-daughter relationships that will be published in the fall by Suhrkamp.

On the 10th of November, 2016, she started a Facebook group and wrote: “DEMO is a youth movement. DEMO wants to take off for the 2017 German parliamentary elections and dare for more democracy. Together, let’s be DEMO.”

We spoke to Mareike about her project, the idea behind it, and her motivation – and are extending a thank you from the bottom of our hearts because, dear Mareike, something like DEMO was missing.

Mareike, you were a journalist before DEMO and are actually writing a book at the moment. What does your life look like now?

To write “I am hereby founding a youth movement” on Facebook – of course that was somehow megalomaniacal. What’s more, one doesn’t actually found something like that. Normally you simply are a youth movement, or you become one. But for me, it was the time to become active.

The life of an activist has now joined my life as a journalist. I never would have thought that something like this would be on my agenda, and so it wasn’t really planned. This Facebook post, founding a youth movement, came out of an impulse after Donald Trump’s election and I was surprised myself by how much encouragement I received from the start in the form of likes, emails, and phone calls – mostly from people who don’t belong directly to my tight circle of acquaintances, but absolutely want to be part of DEMO.

How to integrate it pragmatically into my daily routine, now that’s something I’m still trying to find out. The communication is crazy intensive and tabled in as good as it can be for the evening hours. Up until now, DEMO has been a big, exciting, time-consuming, but still really great hobby.

What does DEMO actually want to achieve?

DEMO wants to facilitate personal encounters. DEMO wants to motivate young people to vote. DEMO wants to, above all, advocate for a free and open society – against racism and sexism and nationalism, and for freedom of the press.

We want to encourage young people to fulfil their political duty, to grab onto this as a chance to do something for their future. This is totally absurd in Germany: the demographic change has a catastrophic effect on the younger generation, but nevertheless our age group has the lowest voter turnout. Of course, that’s not particularly constructive.

Young people – and even because they are in the minority – must make sure that everyone shows up at the ballot box so that this country is also modeled according to our wants. For me, it is extremely important that DEMO can/wants to/should bring about a “we”-feeling for young people in this country.

Because personal meetings, simply sitting across from each other and listening, get shortchanged. And we really need that in this digital world, where we spend a lot more time with our computers than the people we love, let alone the people that we don’t love.

How is your communication organized at the moment?

At the moment, we’re communicating over the Facebook page, the DEMO-discussion group (which you can sign up for separately), and through a mailing list. So far there have been meetings in Hamburg and Berlin – 50 people came to the last one. The website gets a little nicer every day.

We are newcomers without political experience who are doing this project on the side. It’s a classic case of “learning by doing.” Two years ago at the Reporter Forum, Max Fisher from vox.com said that you should just get going if you want to start a (journalistic) project – and who cares, for example, what the website looks like at the beginning.

A lot of people have good ideas and it’s primarily about really just DOING it and getting going before someone else does it. That was also a bit how I felt with DEMO. Of course I had already spoken often with friends about how we need to do something against an increasingly strong presence of right-wing populism. But then nothing came out of it because everyone went back to their own lives after leaving the bar, got busy with their job or the idea of starting a family.

Bringing DEMO into the world was, in contrast, very non-bureaucratic and fast. Facebook brought a lot of shit upon us during the Trump campaign, but that’s really good for DEMO. You reach a lot of people that you don’t know and that’s great.

Who else is behind DEMO?

At the moment, I’m still the body of the spider. Often, I see the other eight comrades-in-arms separately and then communicate in the group what happened. Actual face-to-face contact is totally important, as I experienced. We are a diverse troupe of journalists, teachers, students, lawyers, social workers, and startup entrepreneurs between the ages of 20 and 35.

What’s lined up for DEMO in the coming weeks and months leading up to the parliamentary elections on the 24th of September, 2017?

The goal is, at any rate, to get a trip all through Germany on its feet. My idea was to make a stop in every state, and in fact only in places where we find fellow campaigners that really live there. There should be workshops during the day with people aged 16 to 21 that still attend school or are in vocational training, and then in the evenings a podium discussion where constituents of the youth organizations of the various parties meet, rounding out the evening with a concert.

For me, DEMO is absolutely a cross-party thing. I don’t want to favor or discriminate against anyone at all. But there are still a lot of good ideas and suggestions for actions. Now it’s about finding out what’s doable and what isn’t.

What’s important: I don’t want appear there as a “democracy lecturer from the city” and act like I know how it works and have the job of converting the uninformed. The whole thing should absolutely be pooled together with local forces so that people are there that know how to speak the language of the people and can also make sure there’s a good atmosphere full of trust.

I would like DEMO to do away with “us” versus “them,” because in my opinion that’s a big problem at the moment: the rhetoric of “them” and “us” – and who is that anyway? And couldn’t we all be a “we”?

That’s where this much trumpeted city-countryside conflict plays a role, and I also don’t come from Berlin originally. That’s why we want to travel to smaller places. DEMO is, for me, not just an event for Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich – it is, above all, for all of Germany that surrounds those cities.

 

Was there an event that inspired you to become active with DEMO?

I was in New York last summer where, among other things, I wrote for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung and Zeit Online about politics in the USA. I also met young people there that were engaged in things like Black Lives Matter.

Now, no one there was a role model in an explicitly classical sense, but afterwards I wanted to integrate more political topics in to my daily life, discover my own political engagement, and increase my political awareness. And that is just really glaringly the case with young black people in the USA, because of the discrimination they experience in their daily lives they constantly have to deal with politics.

But there is also this feeling of “identify your privilege” that is arising, meaning not just resting on your own privilege, but rather taking the occasion to do something. So I said to myself: “Just do it! If not now, when?”

I get nostalgic looking at pictures from the 1960s and 70s. It was a time when young people really made a difference and the first step was often confronting their parents with their political attitudes and discussing with friends. They brought politics back into everyday life. That was, in any case, an inspiration to me.

It’s not the case at all that we are alone with DEMO. There are a crazy amount of people engaging – now in the last two years with the refugee crisis, as it’s called. So we are an initiative of many, but if we can get something on its feet then I think that’s a lot better than doing nothing.

What do you hope for in the future from DEMO?

The future? I believe that I know now what DEMO will be this summer! In any case, I hope that we’ll have done 16 events across Germany by the time the election comes. That people gather under one roof to talk, exchange ideas, and also hopefully to argue. Every single extra person that takes part, that’s already a huge success for us.

v.l.n.r. Jürgen Trittin (Die Grünen), Auswärtiger Ausschuss – Peter Altmaier (CDU), Kanzleramtschef –Mareike Nieberding "Jugend-Bewegung für Demokratie – DEMO" – Bernhard Mattes, Präsident der amerikanischen Handelskammer in Deutschland (AmCham) – Gabor Steingart – Herausgeber des "Handelsblatt" zu Gast bei Maybrit Illner, "Trumps Egotrip – Mauern gegen den Rest der Welt?", Sendung vom 2. Februar 2017, ZDF

You can join DEMO on Facebook here. Visit demo-bewegt.de to sign up for the mailing list. And here you can see Mareike on a talk show with Maybrit Illner (unfortunately only in German), which is very much worth watching.

 

Instagram: @mnieberding
Translation: Melissa Frost

Julia co-founded one of the first fashion blogs in Germany in 2007 and became a freelance consultant for digital strategies after publishing her first book in 2010. After an eventful four years with Condé Nast working mainly in the digital department of Vogue Germany, she decided to launch her own online magazine with her dream partner, Veronika Heilbrunner. She is based in Berlin and loves to read books.