Deliberative assemblies are finding their feet – but also facing political barriers

On Friday the 16th of October, the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College hosted a webinar entitled ‘Revitalizing Democracy: Sortition, Citizen Power, and Spaces of Freedom’, which you can watch here. The workshop heavily featured people putting sortition into practice right now, and so the overall focus was very much on deliberative assemblies in advisory roles, rather than non-deliberative juries or lawmaking roles. If you’d rather not spend the whole day watching a videoconference, here’s the CliffsNotes:

David Van Reybrouck, who gave one of the keynotes, helped design the new citizens’ council and assembly system in the parliament of the German-speaking region of Belgium – an area with only 76 000 citizens, but devolved powers similar to Scotland’s. The system involves a permanent citizens’ council and temporary citizens’ assemblies, both selected by sortition, as well as a permanent secretary who acts as a sort of ombudsman for the system. The council sets the agenda for the assemblies, and chases up their conclusions in the regional parliament – essentially acting as an official lobby group for the assemblies’ recommendations. Politicians have to report back to the council a year after each assembly, setting out how they’ve acted on their recommendations and, if they’ve deviated from them, why. In this respect it is a major step forward in the institutionalisation of sortition. Under the Belgian constitution, however, sortitional bodies cannot be given legislative power, so the assemblies are restricted to an advisory role until and unless momentum can be built for a constitutional amendment.

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View from participants of a citizens’ assembly

This is published with a few days’ delay – too late for readers to join the meeting being announced. If you are a contributor submitting a time sensitive post, please email Yoram Gat to make sure it is published promptly.

The US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation, now known as Democracy Without Elections, have 2 special guest speakers at our Chapter Meeting on Tuesday 13 October at 9pm Eastern US time; both were participants in a citizens’ assembly. They are from opposite ends of the political spectrum, and became friends.

If you would like join us and hear their perspective of being on the inside of a citizens’ assembly, contact me.

Sortition to select a Board of Directors

The US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation is changing its name to Democracy Without Elections. We are still affiliated with the Sortition Foundation.

We will be using an online democratic lottery on Sunday to select nine Directors for our new Board from our 80+ members. No stratification will be used, and no preference given to whether a person is active or not. Do you know of any Boards who use sortition to select their Directors?

We have a new website: https://www.democracywithoutelections.org/. It was determined that the website will be geared towards people who have just heard about democratic lotteries. Contact me if you have suggestions for the website. Obviously the citizens’ assembly and history sections need expansion.

Community Cooperative in Australia Conspicuously Selects Board via Sortition

The Kyneton and District Town Square Co-op set up as an umbrella organization of community groups to democratically manage a historic school building / town square in Australia has a constitution that requires some board members be chosen by sortition.

Scroll down on their home page to see a video of Nivek Thompson speak about sortition and pick five board members out of a hat. Also, several of the activists pose with a placard “Lottery Democracy Lunch” and a sign reads “Lottery democracy arrives in Kyneton.”

Deliberation seminar

What happens once a congress, a regional legislature or a citizens’ assembly is created with sortition? Some (many?) feel that deliberation should be the guiding principle behind operating the resulting body.

The US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation and the Deliberation Gateway Network are co-hosting the first of a series of seminars called “Unlocking Deliberation” to help individuals and groups learn how to bring the wide range of modern deliberative techniques to bear on the collective problems that confront them. This first event is titled “Why Deliberate?” and is online this Sunday at 5pm Pacific, 8pm Eastern US time. More information and registration can be found at here

US Sortition Foundation meeting: Inside the first US climate change citizens’ assembly

Announcement by Owen Shaffer.

The next US Sortition Foundation online Chapter Meeting features an inside view of how a citizens’ assembly, and a movement, is built! Maxim Lowe and their team from Washington state are developing a citizens’ assembly to address climate change. They solicited the support of five state legislators, and all are working together to build the citizens’ assembly. More information about their movement can be found here. Note their media attention under “About Us.”

We meet online on Tuesday 7 July at 9pm Eastern US Time, 6pm Pacific. Email Owen Shaffer at dShaffer@Lander.edu for more information.

US Sortition Foundation meeting this Sunday

Announcement by Owen Shaffer.

The US chapter of the Sortition Foundation is featuring a presentation from of by for at it’s Sunday online meeting, with a particular emphasis on the work they have done regarding messaging related to sortition. They have passed along some links that provide useful context for the upcoming conversation:

  • Sharing Sortition With Some Soul is an essay that explains some of the major stumbling blocks we run into when talking about sortition and deliberative democracy
  • of by for Polling Results shares key findings from a United States survey they conducted related to messaging and appeal of lottery selection at the highest levels of government
  • Their website (www.joinofbyfor.us) attempts to incorporate their approach to messaging to pitch and generate excitement around a Citizens’ Congress

That’s Sunday 3 May at 4pm Eastern US Time, 3pm Central, 2pm Mountain and 1pm Pacific. Email Owen Shaffer at dShaffer@Lander.edu by Saturday to ensure you receive the connection information in a timely manner, or you can join our email list at http://lists.sortitionfoundation.org/subscribe/usa.

The United States chapter of Sortition Foundation

Owen Shaffer writes:

The Sortition Foundation has a United States Chapter that started up earlier this year. We hold online meetings that may be of interest to you. The group includes some folks you would recognize and has a healthy group of people that are new to sortition.

If you would like to join us, email me at dshaffer@lander.edu and I will send you the link to join the meeting. The announcement follows.

You can also join a group email for announcements at http://lists.sortitionfoundation.org/subscribe/usa and a Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/420337885380259 as well.

Owen Shaffer, Convenor

The next online meeting of the US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation will, as before, be held twice. You can join either one of the almost identical sessions.

Sunday 4 August: 4pm Eastern, 3 Central, 2 Mountain, 1pm Pacific

Tuesday 6 August: 9pm Eastern, 8 Central, 7 Mountain, 6pm Pacific

We are trying something new: a guest speaker. The idea is a short presentation followed by discussion. This time I will present some original research that I have recently completed; it is described at the bottom. A future guest could look at, for example, citizens’ assemblies in America. We will discuss the guest speaker concept during the meeting.

We will also get a status report from each of our Groups, talk more about how we can support each other and, in short, enjoy one of those times when we get to talk with sortive folks!

Owen

Guest Speaker: Owen Shaffer. Topic: Representative Representatives?

Does Congress look like the rest of America? I have charts that show how different they are, including ethnicity, wealth, age, religion, previous job and education– over 30 data points. Several have not been published before, and most have not been compared to the general population before. Obviously this leads into sortition. How can this data be used to strengthen our movement?

New permanent sortition assembly in Belgium

Parliament of the Belgian German-speaking community

The parliament of the German-speaking Belgian community (Ostbelgien, 77.000 inhabitants) – which enjoys some political autonomy in the Belgian federal system – has officially and unanimously decided on February 25 to use sortition on a permanent basis, starting after the next elections in the fall.

Two different institutions will involve sortition. First, a permanent “Citizen council” (Bürgerrat) composed of 24 randomly selected citizens serving for 18 months. This council will have the mission to select topics and set the agenda, each year, for several “Citizen assemblies” (Bürgerversammlungen). These assemblies (maximum 3 per year) will be composed through sortition and age, gender and education quotas. The council will decide both their size (between 25 and 50 citizens) and the duration of their work (e.g. 3 weekends over 3 months).

These assemblies will produce recommendations to the German-speaking Parliament, the latter having the obligation to discuss the proposals (provided that they reach a 4/5 majority support in the citizen assembly) and to justify its decision to follow them or not.

Topics discussed in the citizen assemblies will usually concern the competencies of federated communities (culture, education, scientific research, development aid) but could exceptionally go beyond if the citizen council recommends it. Non-selected citizens can easily propose topics to the council, provided that they gather 100 signatures.

The selection method will be the following: First, a mail will be sent by the local parliament to a large number of randomly selected citizens. Second, a new public random selection will be made among those who responded positively, with quotas and a 17 years old threshold. Interestingly (compared to Ancient Athens), participation will be open to non-Belgian residents.
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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