Participants voting on proposals at a recent mock Citizens’ Assemblies in Carlton

People’s and Citizens’ Assemblies are coming to Australia — here’s why you should care.

A new organisation, the Coalition of Everyone, is on a mission to bring people back into democratic practices in a way that is effective and meaningful.

You might be thinking that’s a tall order. And it is.

Around the world, our democracies are failing us. They’re creating rules the majority of people don’t agree with, creating ever-widening divides of inequality and barely meeting minimum standards of transparency and accountability.

Here in Australia, we vote¹ every three years and then, for the most part, we wait and see what happens.

We protest when things go really wrong, but for the most part we’re not invited or encouraged to have a say in the decisions being made for our communities.

And that’s problematic for a number of reasons, including:

  • Contributing to a culture of hopelessness at not being able to contribute to change in our communities
  • Creating a lack of trust in our governments and public institutions
  • Making people feel like our voices aren’t heard, or don’t matter, and that we’re not represented in decisions that affect us

What this ends up manifesting as, in many people, is apathy and cynicism. Feelings of, why should I bother and why should I care when clearly the ones with the power to do something don’t?

There are days when I say the same.

And, quite honestly, it scares me.

Enter a seed of hope

The ways that our democracy functions is broken but it doesn’t mean that democracy is a broken concept.

In a world that has reinvented itself faster than anyone would’ve thought possible 50 years ago, our democratic systems are lagging behind.

Are there’s some that thinks it’s time for a makeover.

Enter: People’s Assemblies, Citizens’ Assemblies and the Coalition of Everyone.

If you were like me a few months ago, you might be saying: wait what? That’s a lot of words I kind of understand separately but not together.

People’s Assemblies

First, what’s a People’s Assembly? In as few words as possible, a People’s Assembly is a gathering of people, community groups and organisations who sit down together to say, what can we do to create change on this particular topic?

Late last year, the Coalition of Everyone held a People’s Assembly on the most urgent problem facing us in this moment — the climate emergency — and I was lucky enough to head along with my team from Code for Australia.

In a room full of activists, podcasters, community organisers, academics and businesses, we spent half a morning saying, here’s what I’m doing, here’s what I think we could be doing and who’s up for working on that together?

People’s Assemblies are essentially a bottom-up approach to change making that gathers individuals, academics, businesses and community groups, from all sectors, to collaborate on a shared challenge they feel strongly about.

Brainstorming ideas at a recent Mock Citizens’ Assembly on Regenerative Agriculture

Citizens’ Assemblies

Citizens’ Assemblies on the other hand, take more of a top down approach. They happen when the government creates opportunities for ordinary people to participate in the decision making process. And, most importantly, they happen when governments commit to enacting the recommendations that come out of them.

Citizens’ Assemblies and People’s Assemblies are happening in pockets all over the world, and are proving to be effective ways at making good decisions that are representative, that cut through difficult topics and move governments towards sensible action.

And they’re empowering as anything.

Imagine, instead of voting on a person who you hope is going to represent your needs and values, you could actually recommend and vote on policies directly yourself.

There’s a well-defined and beautiful structure to Citizens’ Assemblies, one that could fill an entire blog post, which I’ll likely get into later.

For now, there’s one more sequence of words I’ve yet to define.

The Coalition of Everyone

The Coalition of Everyone is led by a power-trio of women, Willow Berzin, Sonia Randhawa and Susan Porter, in collaboration with deep-democracy facilitator, Pru Gell, who are leading² the movement to make Citizens’ Assemblies and People’s Assemblies a regular thing in Australia, and a fundamental tool in our democratic system.

They believe that to make real change, it’s going to take everyone. And they’re working incredibly hard to ensure there’s space and safety for all to participate in the steering of our collective future.

Right now, they’re running events across Melbourne (soon to be elsewhere) to give people a taste of what’s involved in a Citizens’ Assembly, and to show the power of people coming together through People’s Assemblies.

Our “expert” at a recent Mock Citizens’ Assembly helps guide participants through their policy proposals

If a blog post wasn’t quite enough for you to stop the head scratching, I’d highly recommend heading along to the next ones to experience what a different kind of political inclusion looks like — and to answer all the questions you might have!

  1. I say we, but despite living and working here for six years, I’m not eligible to hold dual-citizenship and so, am not allowed to vote.
  2. There is also a huge community of volunteers and collaborators who are supporting and contributing to the Coalition of Everyone.

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Grace O'Hara

Grace O'Hara

234 Followers

Trying to figure this world out, sometimes with words, mostly with action. Co-founder of smallfires.co