The idea of a People's Assembly or Citizen's Assembly is a relatively recent phenomenon but one with much potential to change how we deal with and solve some of the major issues of our times. It is clear to many that our political system is broken and no longer fit for purpose. Now is the time to start looking at supplanting our outmoded structures and mechanisms with new ways of reaching consensus over the key issues of our times.
We need to build solutions from the grassroots upwards so that politicians will not only take notice of our ideas, but start to implement them. While the existing system crumbles, we start to construct new models to take over, but based on networks rather than hierarchies, open source sharing ethos rather than proprietory, intellectual property-driven protectionism, co-operatives rather than shareholder profit-driven corporations.
Some fundamental questions would have to be asked around each issue if we are to propose, for example, a Citizens Assembly of Trailblazers for Frome. Trailblazers was selected as a name for a project to renew politics because the word implies new paths, lighting the way ahead with new directions, new models. And because of its Campfire associations.
The gathered collective might learn from the recent Irish government-mandated assembly on abortion (99 participants).
Structure and Procedure
Each specific assembly of Trailblazers might revolve around a new random group selected by sortition and perhaps managed by a steering group of half a dozen who in time would be elected by the local population.
The assembly would need to draw on a considerable amount of resources and identify experts around statistics, legalise, past, present and future models, emotional impact on the population and much more.
The method of selection process and accountability needs particular attention. Critics of people's assemblies often point to the check mechanisms of our existing system but the truth is that what we have now is not truly democratic and we are often dependent on career politicians egos and other severe limitations that exist in system that inevitably always has a winner and loser. There is no better example of how broken our system is than the whole story around Brexit, how it came about, how politicians have squabbled to get nowhere and in the process the UK has been set up to look like the laughing stock of the world stage.
Assemblies should aim to be more pragmatic and less concerned with win / lose, point scoring politics as they convene to sit to solve a particular issue - ie Brexit (perhaps one of the most unsolvable of all current issues). Potential subjects to address by a committee of Frome Trailblazers might include :
- How to solve the Brexit conundrum?
- How we can we each make a difference in terms of saving the planet?
- How can we help build resources for effective Citizens Assemblies?
- How can we effectively introduce a system of Universal Basic Income in the age of artificial intelligence?
Our fundamental questions might start with:
1 What are the issues?
2 What has caused them?
3 Why have they been divisive?
4 What has been done so far to solve the issues?
5 How do we invent and / or apply new visions and models of co-operation that relate specifically to these issues?
6 What new ideas and approaches do we have on the ways to solve these issues?
7 What help and expertise to we need to bring on board?
8 What processes need to be put in place to allow us to reach our objectives?
9 How long will it take?
10 What other resources do we need? Financially and otherwise...
Underpinning the group's operations would be a clear statement of Values and Principles which would include Ways of Working and other procedural guidelines. Campfire already has its own (work in progress) Values and Principles which might be useful in helping formulate a parallel Trailblazing rationale.
1 Work as a group
2 Agree Ways of Working
3 Use a facilitator
4 Get all the help that's available
5 Keep it light
1. Is a broad united national campaign against austerity, cuts and privatisation in our workplaces, community and welfare services, based on general agreement with the signatories’ Founding Statement.
2. Is linked to no political party, committed to open non-sectarian working and dedicated to supplementing, rather than supplanting, trade union, student, pensioner and community opposition to austerity measures.
3. Is based on affiliation by individual supporters, unions nationally and locally, anti-cuts campaigns, and other student, pensioner, unemployed, disabled people’s, women’s, Black people’s, youth and LGBT campaigning organisations.
4. Aspires to support, encourage, coordinate joint action, and facilitate a transfer of experience rather than to command.
5. Encourages the establishment of new local campaigns and/or People’s Assemblies.
6. Organises newsletters, a website, twitter, Facebook and social media, meetings, conferences, lobbies, rallies, marches, demonstrations and other events.
7. Vehemently opposes all proposals to “solve” the crisis by discrimination or scapegoating on grounds of disability, race, religion, ethnic origin, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation or identity.
8. Liaises closely with similar movements in other countries resisting austerity measures.
9. Encourages a wide debate on how to protect the welfare state and develop an alternative programme for economic and social recovery.