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Origins, Motives, and Structures of Citizens' Initiatives (October 27, 1973)

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Their actions and behavior have been judged in different ways by Hamburg sociologists who are studying the phenomenon of citizens’ initiatives. Some observers see signs of a growing reorientation of citizens’ initiatives in the sense that they no longer focus on a concrete aim, but represent an ideological leftist strategy. Their hypothesis is that the German Communist Party, in lieu of a strong base among the masses, is trying more and more to use citizens’ initiatives to reach wider segments of the population, not just through “Red Dot” actions.* The upcoming city assembly elections in Hamburg, it is assumed, will clearly reflect this strategy for the first time.

Up to now, in Hamburg, too, there was little to be said for any kind of motivated interest (in any case, among the ultra-left) in citizens’ initiatives as a relatively new form of preparliamentary participation. In an introductory comment to the Fischer paperback Bürgerinitiativen – Schritte zur Veränderung? (Citizens’ Initiatives – Steps to Change?), editor Heinz Grossmann wrote two years ago “that the legitimation of citizens’ initiatives is increasingly disputed – by the left.” They evidently see them only as undesirable, sporadic means of deflecting a bottled up collective uneasiness, as safety valves of the “system” or orientation guides for the “Establishment.” . . . “Since the political activities of the Left created essential preconditions for possible actions by citizens, it is not trivial to ask how this left wing will react to citizens’ initiatives in the future.”

Another question is how the authorities subject to party influence will respond to the citizens’ initiatives, for instance, in Hamburg. In early 1972 at the anniversary celebration of a district assembly, Hamburg Mayor Schulz, who was relatively new to his office, still found it “necessary to say a word about the phenomenon of citizens’ initiatives, because it triggers confusion or at least raises questions.” For example, why are existing institutional options for citizen participation not fully taken advantage of; the same applies to options offered by the political parties. “Some citizens’ initiatives have uncovered and voiced certain problems whose magnitude and urgency had not attracted the notice of the public administration . . . . But we must make sure that we maintain effective and strong instruments and means by which to hear and implement citizens’ wishes. We must also recognize that there might be some people who create loud noises in the political landscape outside of the parties and then tally it as a true success if elected bodies, as a result of such noise, overturn decisions that had been carefully deliberated and made on a solid basis.”

[ . . . ]

* Roter Punkt actions started out protesting fare increases for public transportation, in which participants marked their cars with a red dot that signified they would pick up passengers in an effort to boycott the fare increase – trans.

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