Spurred by the US election of Donald Trump, 29-year-old Berlin-based journalist Mareike Nieberding founded DEMO. It's a new movement to promote political participation and dialogue among voters under 30. We caught up in a Kreuzberg cafe to discuss her decision to form DEMO, and the positive response it quickly received, a surprise even to herself.
"He won the election and a day later I sat down and wrote this Facebook post and started a Facebook page, and people just started picking up on it, and it all went really quickly, so I had like 1000 followers after one week, what, for me, who has never done anything like that, was quite overwhelming," says Nieberding.
With over 4,000 Facebook members and a 600-member online discussion forum, Nieberding's fledgling organization is ready to take nonpartisan political discourse into the real world.
"I don't know, the discourse online is just so frustrating. People get aggressive really easily, it's hard to talk to one another, I guess."
Nieberding's goal is for regional DEMO leaders to set up talks, panel discussions, and concerts in their areas, according to what best suits their local audience. A core team of 30 in Berlin helps with crowdfunding, designs campaigns, and workshops ideas. What’s key is that diverse points of view are heard, in both urban and rural areas.
"We want to get people together from all parties to talk about politics in a way that they think they can't, because there's some kind of, I don’t know, it divides them from one another," Nieberding explains.
Besides encouraging a general target demographic of 18 to 30 year olds to vote in Germany's upcoming federal election, DEMO wants to encourage young Germans and German residents to discuss their shared political future.
"The strategy is just to get out there and start talking again, and start listening again, or [trying] to get young people to debate on matters that they think are not important for them, although they definitely are, because we can't just let the old people decide what this country is about, or will be about, once we are at their age," she says.
In order to bring together diverse demographics, Nieberding is reaching out to students at Germany's Berufsschulen - trade schools - and in Muslim youth groups.
"So, it's really important to get those kids too, who don’t feel as they belong to the so-called elite," Nieberding expresses. "I think that’s one of the big problems as well, that there’s like a discourse of 'them' and 'we,' and we are all in this together, so…"
Diversity is also present within the organization's leadership.
"Luckily we are not only all white academics. There are also other people involved already."
Because the group is so new, there's opportunity for multiple approaches and points of view, which Nieberding sees as an asset, allowing members to make it their own. If the organization sponsors 10 to 15 discussions throughout Germany this summer, she says, she'll be satisfied.