Instead of the Popular Initiative, let’s try the democracy of chance

François de Closets writes in l’Opinion.

The Gilets Jaunes, the coalition, the opposition, everybody seems to support the Popular Initiative (référendum d’initiative citoyenne, or RIC). This mechanism for popular participation would offer both a renovating reform of our republic and a way out of the crisis. Wouldn’t it, however, be a false solution? Wouldn’t it be embraced more because it is in the air rather than through thorough reflection? Wouldn’t it be masking a real solution? “Let the people speak”, who can object to that? No one, and it is for this reason that we must not give in to moral terrorism.

Popular sovereignty, the foundation of democracy, struggles with the question of the government. Beyond the scale of the city, even beyond that of a village, collective power is no longer operative. Representative democracy must be utilized. Every nation has arrived at this conclusion. That is, popular sovereignty does not mean governing but appointing and recognizing rulers. It also means that the citizens see themselves as being represented by those who speak and act in their name.

Despite this delegation, the people remain the ultimate source of truth, their word being superior to that of their representatives. In particular, their word must be imposed through referendum when it comes to the supreme law: the constitution. Representative democracy is therefore a compromise due to the impossibility of the ideal of direct democracy.

A crutch. In practice the system risks the formation of an enclosed political class which usurps power from the people. Conversely, direct democracy can be used by manipulators who under the pretext of “letting the people speak” impose their point of view on the majority. Real democracy, that of the general will, is therefore a historical construction which must fend off both of those perversions. The RIC should be examined from this perspective.
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Pressure for Brexit Citizen’s Assembly increases

Message from Compass:

Only a few weeks ago, many had not even heard of the idea. But now, the use of a Citizens’ Assembly to break the Brexit deadlock is a real possibility.

Compass, working as ever with others, has helped get an answer to Brexit on the political map and found a way to rebuild our broken democracy.

The demand is simple: if Parliament can’t decide, then a representative sample of the people must take over. Chosen by lot and filtered to be representative of class, geography, gender, race and views on Brexit, they would decide between which of the three options on the table to recommend to Parliament: Deal, No Deal or a Second Referendum.

A Brexit Citizens’ Assembly would take ten weeks. During this time it would set up, present the evidence, allow people to deliberate and then recommend a way forward to Parliament. A short extension of Article 50 would be needed. It is doable.

Lisa Nandy and Stella Creasy, now backed by dozens of MPs from across the spectrum, have submitted an amendment for Parliament to set up such as an Assembly.

The amendment is likely to be debated next Tuesday. It’s called ‘Amendment H’.

Whoever your MP is, lobby them – write, email or turn up at a weekend surgery. You are not asking them to take a side on Brexit, just to support a better process to reach an answer.

Brexit_event_Ca.jpg

Last night in Westminster, a packed room heard the case for a new politics. In times of crisis we look to the ideas lying around us – the best idea is a Citizens’ Assembly. It is time to get out of the Brexit stalemate and deepen our democracy by trusting the people.

Please do all you can to ensure the country has the option of a Citizens’ Assembly.

Our deepest thanks,

The Compass Team

Sortition in Madrid

An article about the political activity of Pablo Soto in Madrid is mostly devoted to a popular initiative mechanism, but the last few paragraphs deal with an allotted body:

This month Madrid plans to launch Mr Soto’s most far-reaching reform yet – an “observatory” of 57 citizens selected at random to advise the city’s 57 councillors.

Mr Soto explains that an algorithm will ensure that observatory members will be representative of Madrid’s social diversity, with a one-year mandate and access to expert assistance to reach well-informed decisions.
Image caption A selection of the citizens’ proposals (translated from Spanish) featured on the platform in early January

The concept was inspired by the ancient Athenian practice of choosing citizens to form governing committees, and by more recent examples where governments have asked the people to decide on single issues to break political deadlock.

In Australia, a “citizens’ jury” was asked about the construction of a nuclear dump.

“The idea is as old as democracy itself,” he says. “A group of people chosen at random – if they have the time and capacity to study the issues in depth – can take very representative decisions.”

Ontario’s pot shop lottery

The Ontario government (in Canada) has allotted the first 25 pot shop licenses by lottery.

Nearly 17,000 applicants participated in the lottery to win the right to apply for a licence to run one of Ontario’s first cannabis shops.

[…]

The province has temporarily limited the number of stores to 25 because of a shortage of pot. Politicians decided that a lottery was the fairest way to decide who could first apply for the licences.

The lottery was a blow to entrepreneurs who already had plans to open shops under way. Some had signed leases and completed branding and store designs.

At least half a dozen companies, including Ottawa’s National Access Cannabis, planned pot-shop chains or franchise operations.

Those big players found themselves at the mercy of chance, just like everyone else who paid $75 to enter the lottery. It didn’t appear that any of the big players won the lottery.

International Sortition Network Second Annual Meeting

[This is a repost from www.sortitionfoundation.org]

plusieurs-centaines-de-gilets-jaunes-se-sont-deployes-sur-les-champs-elysees-des-samedi-matin_6131684

From Wednesday January 16 to Friday January 18 the international network, Democracy R&D, whose first principle is the use of “sortition (random selection) to assemble representative groups of everyday people“, will be meeting for the second time, this year in Paris.

Three directors of the Sortition Foundation will be attending, along with members of around 21 organisations and several “guest participants”. This year sees the network growing, with the inclusion of Involve, DemSoc, the RSA, DeliberaBrasil and GĂ©nĂ©ration Nomination, alongside many of the participants from last year’s meeting in Madrid.

The meeting will also discuss the “Great National Debate” in France — a series of regional sortition assemblies — in response to the Gilet Jaunes protests.

It will also be very interesting to hear from the participants from Madrid, who were instrumental in that city becoming the first in modern Europe (and possibly the world?) to institute a sortition body (called “The Observatory”) alongside an elected assembly. The Observatory (which has 57 members, the same number as the elected city council), will have significant power to allocate funds to popular projects taken from Madrid’s online citizen proposal platform.

Sortition is finally moving in from the fringes, and the Sortition Foundation is excited to be a key participant in the Democracy R&D network, which is an integral part of that movement.

The Gilets Jaunes: what are the prospects for sortition?

An article in RTL by Laure-Hélène de Vriendt and AFP (original in French, Dec. 29, 2018):

Gilets Jaunes marching in Montmartre

Perspective: Some among the Gilets Jaunes propose using citizen participation via sortition in order to create a list for the European elections.

To be used in “the great debate” by the government, proposed by some “gilets jaunes” for the European elections, citizen participation via sortition is riding high, despite some limits emphasized by researchers.

Its detractors fear a “talk-shop where legitimacy is only up to chance”, undermining the foundations of elections. Its supporters praise “the equality of chance to participate in the debate” which sortition makes possible, a specialist in democratic systems working at the Paris VIII university.

In any case, the method has the support of the government: within the framework of “the great debate”, to be held in January and February as a response to the Gilets Jaunes movement, meetings of a hundred allotted citizens in each region will be held in order to give their opinion on the grievances mounting everywhere in France.

“The idea is to make sure that the Frenchpeople who are not necessarily those most involved in public life and public conversation can give their ideas about the debate and the proposals”, explained PM Édouard Philippe last week in Haute-Vienne.

“A much more diverse representation”
For prof. Loïc Blondiaux, a specialist in those matters in Paris I university, “it is a response to the crisis of representation”. Sortition “guarantees a much more diverse representation” because “if we look at the social makeup of Parliament, there are very few workers and wage earners, as opposed to the Gilets Jaunes and to the future assembly members of the “great debate”, emphasizes the researcher. “The representatives will not speak instead of the citizens but as citizens, it is a different voice”, he asserts.

Until now, civic participation via sortition never went above the local level in France. After an experiment during the summer with a national debate for the 5-year energy plan, it “reaches for the first time the national level, with the demand coming from below”, emphasizes Yves Sintomer.

Although citizens councils and participative budgeting using sorititon already exist in municipalities, he observes, “the only institutionalization of sortition at the national level is in trial juries”, going back to the revolution.
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Thought Piece: Sharing Sortition With Some Soul

In a new essay, Sharing Sortition With Some Soul, Adam Cronkright and Simon Pek suggest we can make lot/sortition more accessible and appealing through savvy and emotive communication. Their goal to stimulate thought and debate, and also to start a practical conversation about framing and messaging to incorporate relevant insights from the well-developed art and science of persuasive communication into the Sortition Space.

Introduction

All of us in the Sortition Space, from the organizations in Democracy R&D to the regular readers of Equality by Lot, are passionate about sortition and hopeful that it can empower everyday people and deepen democracy. The last decade has seen exciting advances on this front: mini-publics are on the rise, as are related books and articles, and we are connecting and collaborating with each other more than ever. But although we have grown and moved in from the fringe, we are still quite small and sortition is still quite marginal. And this should surprise us, especially given how desperate our societies seem for anything that could right the sinking ship of traditional electoral politics.

Political crises ripple through our countries and trust in government tanks, yet almost 50 years after its resurrection few people have even heard of sortition. Demagogues rise a wave of democratic disenchantment, yet few people who have heard of it seriously consider sortition. And we promote our cause everywhere from dinner parties to democracy conferences, yet few of our listeners seem to care about sortition. Some are surprisingly skeptical (given such frustration with the status quo), while others seem to find our case convincing but not compelling. 
But sortition is important and inspiring, so where are we going wrong?

In this short essay, drawing on research on political communication, we suggest that the primary stumbling blocks are an affinity to language that doesn’t always fit our audiences, and a lack of skill and comfort with persuasion—especially in the realm of emotion. We argue that the latter is likely due to our deep predisposition toward rational and objective communication. As illustrative examples, we offer concrete ways to overcome these challenges, juxtaposed with typical sortition speech. And we conclude with an invitation for others to join us in developing a suite of recommendations to make our messaging about sortition more captivating and memorable.

View or download the full essay with the following link (note: if you get a popup window that asks you to sign in or create an account, just click the ‘x’ in the upper right corner or “No thanks, continue to view” at the bottom). Link: Sharing Sortition With Some Soul (PDF)

If there is interest, they will follow-up with a future post suggesting ways to organize a larger conversation/collaboration.

Post Image: Randomly-selected participants in a debate run by Missions Publiques (France) 
© Rebecca Cosquéric.