Popular Assembly: 8 steps for change
In the current time of social protests all around the world, the problem that citizens are facing is not being heard or understood by their official representatives. Here are some steps that could inspire you to bring a democratic change in your country using the best practices from all over the world and current tools.
“If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.”
In ancient Greece, people used to gather in the Ecclesia to discuss problems that mattered to them and find common solutions. This kind of assemblies played a role in the major revolutions in Europe from the 18th to the 20th century and uprisings against dictatorships.
In our century, used by social movement like Los Indignados (Spain), Nuit Debout (France), Occupy the US (in USA), Occupygezi (Turkey), Los cabildos (Chile), etc, these assemblies are a refreshing and innovative alternative to the charade of conventional parliamentary politics.
“A popular assembly (or people’s assembly) is a gathering called to address issues of importance to participants. Assemblies tend to be freely open to participation and operate by direct democracy.”
This is a space open to all citizens from a certain area, be it a neighbourhood, city, or a broader region. This space is used by the citizens to discuss matters that are important to them and to decide on how to act in order to solve these issues.
The assembly may make its decisions through a vote, or try to come to an agreement that is acceptable to all (often called consensus). The most important feature of a people´s assembly is that decisions are made in a directly democratic manner, meaning that each participating citizen holds an equal amount of power in the assembly.
Let’s see examples of steps that could be taken for a successful assembly :
1. Get organized
Making a meeting with friends/people who want to organize a participative democracy activity (3 people minimum), present them with the idea and ask them if they want to get involved. This will be the coordination group. There can be more people in this group if you expect more participants in the activity.
During the activity, there are 3 main types of groups:
- Coordination group: with presenter(s), facilitator(s) and secretary (s)
- Discussion groups: 5 to 15 people maximum
- General assembly: meeting of the coordination group and the discussion groups
Think about when and where you will do this activity (district meeting? protest? other?), the materials needed (paper? pens? makers? …) and the process (how to distribute the speaking time, the steps, …)
Make a timeline of the event to help you to properly manage the steps: introduction to everyone, discussions, claims creation, voting, sharing with the global group, sharing on the internet.
2. During an event propose an exercise of democracy
During neighbourhood meetings and protests, the presenter(s) proposes organizing discussion groups to find solutions (from 5 to 15 people).
In each group, there should be a facilitator who organizes and manages the fair distribution of the speaking time and a secretary who writes the discussions and claims.
You can make each group work on a specific topic.
Example: water, food, retirement, work, health care, inequality …
Several groups can work on the same topics if there are many people interested in a special topic.
3. Group discussions
In these groups, each participant will one by one expose problems they are facing (related to the group topic) or the one they see around them. (it can be through post-its, open-discussions, …)
In the second round, participants will be invited to propose solutions to fix the problems exposed. These solutions can be discussed in order to improve them to define afterwards clear claims and realistic actions that are expected from the citizens, governments or corporations.
You can give a time limit for this part.
4. Make clear claims
Each group is invited to structure their claims by starting each claim with an action verb. The facilitator should help make them specific and clear. You can use the S.M.A.R.T. method for it.
Example: “Increase the pension of X dollars for March 2020 thanks to _________ .”
5. Choose the most important claims
It is better to limit 3 main final claims per group because too many major claims make it difficult to apply them.
All the group participants are invited to vote by hand raising to define which should be the main claims and keep the others as secondary.
Example: if there are 10 proposals, choose 3 main ones. The other 7 will be maintained but secondary.
6. Share claims in the global group
Invite all discussion groups to gather in a general group meeting.
The group secretaries will present the main claims of each group at the main meeting to inform everyone about the agreed claims.
Participants can show their approval, for example, by raising their hands up and moving them, like “Los Indignados” in Spain.
Example: Many hands up = Global approval, not much = must be reviewed.
7. Share these claims online
You can do it through a platform or a survey and allow everyone to vote for those they consider most important to them (expatriates, people from other regions, …)
This will allow the recognition of the national needs and expectations of people.
The results must be open to all.
8. Promote the survey and its results
Promote the survey among all the people you know and share the results in the media and social networks to get the government’s attention.
Example: in France, thousands of yellow vests participated in a national survey (created by the movement) to see the main claims and the result was a clear list for further negotiation.
That is just an example of how you can work to create clear claims from the local level to the national level and in a democratic process. You can always adapt it to you particular situation and culture.