Citizens’ Assemblies ≠ Popular Assemblies
This form of participation also exists outside of political institutions ! Last week, I attended a town hall meeting near my home. It was organized by people in my neighborhood in collaboration with a local association. People’s assemblies have different objectives and a different scope than citizens’ assemblies.
As we have seen, if I wanted to promote the establishment of a citizens’ assembly, it would be with the aim of meeting for a few months (4 to 9) to work on a specific problem for which it would have received a mandate from the political institutions in place. Since it would have a status similar to that of the parliament and the government (communal, cantonal or federal), its recommendations and decisions would be implemented by the political authorities.
The popular assembly that I am going to talk about took the form of a discussion forum open to any local resident who wished to participate in order to propose ideas, deliberate and make decisions together on issues that concern our daily lives and that have not been taken into account by the political power. This popular assembly lasted a few hours, the time of an afternoon, but others can last a few days. They can have anywhere from 10 participants to 50 or more. They often lead to the launching of an action, a project, a petition, a referendum, an initiative, or the setting up of a participatory political program, etc.
In this case, at the end of the discussions, the group decided to set up a solidarity canteen every other Sunday lunchtime. This project aims to encourage meetings and moments of sharing between the inhabitants of the district and at the same time to bring a little support to the underprivileged people of the area. And everyone is pitching in! Some people offered to cook, others to spread the word to the population, while some preferred to take care of the musical animation or the organization and the setting up of the place. These assemblies promote social cohesion, collective intelligence and the sharing of ideas and resources. Living together, cooperation, emancipation and the search for solutions by individuals are at the center of the process.
Citizens’ Assemblies and Popular Assemblies are therefore two complementary solutions to the problems of political careerism, the inertia of popular initiatives, the over-representation the over-representation of certain social categories of certain social categories within the bodies of power or the influence of lobbies. I am confident that these democratic tools will help us to face the climate crisis !