Beyond Protest: the way of People’s Assemblies

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In the conversation about a suggestion to amend General Assembly’s Initial Statement, in the 18 November GA of #OccupyLSX, there was a consensus that parliamentary democracy is not working, and that it was time for a new model of democracy.

The amendment said:  “This alternative must be built by people’s assemblies across the country… It is proposed this insertion be linked to a call for the formation of people’s assemblies in neighbourhoods, workplaces and education establishments across the country, and for a day of action in support.”

These notes are a contribution to exploring together what it will take for people’s assemblies to realize their potential as organs of real democracy. It’s an invitation to an action-oriented, deep-dive learning journey.

What is wrong with representative democracy?

Let’s start with a foundational question. Why representative democracy is not capable to solve the complex, socio-economc crises brought to us, courtesy of the global capitalist system? Here’s one of the reasons:

“UK democracy is patently absurd. Each Member of the Parliament claims to represent up to 100,000 people, when we all know that it’s extremely hard to represent anyone else’s views, with integrity at least,” wrote Robert Beckett in a comment to “What are we protesting for?”, Mark Barrett’s article in News Statesman, last March.

Imagine how many problems can they solve, how much value and resources could 100,000 people could co-create for themselves, when they get fed up by being “represented,” and decide to take their affairs into their own hands…!

If democracy is reduced to the right to chose every once a while, which members of the political elite should represent us, then it hardly deserves its name anymore. The essence of democracy is active participation in the decisions that affect the life of all, by all. Allowing democracy to be reduced to the electoral game, is depriving society from the fruits of its collective intelligence, reducing all of  us consumers of the political menu composed by the elite.

The promise of the People’s Assemblies & the role of cyberspace in fulfilling it

The greatest promise of the People’s Assemblies is to unleash a wave of never experienced social creativity arising from 1000s of Assemblies around the world and channel it for self-organisation around vital interests of the people, by the people.

When those Assemblies get linked up and the collaboration flows in and across the occupy sites accelerate, anything becomes possible.

The Assemblies can fulfill that promise only if they tap into the bold surge in expressive and coordination capability, enabled by the Web, both online and off-line.

It’s not only a question of having enough Occupy-supportive geeks to build and connect tools into a non-confusing, truly empowering virtual environment. By that I mean empowering us to do what we need to do together, without having to clone ourselves to be able to participate in all meetings where we are needed.

It’s also a question of having enough appetite in large enough number of Occupationistas to engage in rapid learning what it takes to make the best use of our electronic and social technologies. That would also call for the stepping forward of budding “community technology architects”.

They are geeks with a passion for “whole systems” thinking and matching the rapidly evolving needs of coordination within and among the Occupy sites with the also rapidly evolving affordances of various tech tools and environments.

If you are one of them, what do you plan to do to help the movement appreciate more actively  the importance of mastering the best web-enabled collaboration and environments, and catching up with the best practices of their use by academia, businesses, and civil society organisations?



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Categories: Direct Democracy, General Assemblies


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One Comment on “Beyond Protest: the way of People’s Assemblies”

  1. January 6, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    We cannot leave out of the reasons why representative democracy does not work, the fact that politicians are tied to a party which calls upon their loyalty. If they want to be re-elected, and that is the first agenda of any politician, they need to demonstrate complete commitment to the party line. So they are held by the need to earn a living, (re-election), on the one hand and party loyalty on the other.

    If there was someone who’s views you respected, and who you could trust to express those views with complete inegrity, without reference to their own interests, who could speak from the heart in a way which is foreign to politicians, who was a Martin Luther King, or Mandela, who was commited to building something together with others, rather than being in the winning/losing syndrome, then representative democracy would have more appeal.

    However, even then, something would be lost by delegating decisions to those who ‘know better’. We can be inspired by such people, but we should never give up our autonomy to experts. It is only by being personally involved and participating that I discover that I belong, that I have a right to be here, and I can voice my needs. It is that participation that true equality is born.

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