Comments by members of the Cambridgeshire Citizens’ Assembly

Benjamin Hatton of CambridgeshireLive interviewed members of the Cambridgeshire Citizens’ Assembly:

What did the assembly members think of the process?

As a condition for entry, the media was requested not to identify or speak with any assembly members, except those chosen for interview.

Lisa Eland, 45, from Haddenham, near Ely said: “It was quite interesting. I didn’t quite know what to expect.

“There was a lot of material to be covered, so you really had to focus on so many aspects that you didn’t necessarily contemplate discussing. But it gave everybody the opportunity to listen to other people’s experiences, opinions – you get very caught up in your own little bubble, how things affect you, so it was quite eye-opening listening to other people.”
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Agora Brussels wins a seat in Brussels Regional Parliament

Gabriel Popham reports in openDemocracy:

Agora Brussels [website, Facebook page] started less than two years ago as a grassroots citizens’ movement to reboot democracy in the Belgian capital. Earlier this year Agora ran for the regional elections and managed to gain one seat at the Brussels Regional Parliament.

Agora is a unique political party, in that it doesn’t have any political programme to speak of: its only agenda is to organise a permanent citizens’ assembly, promote its institutionalisation for the region of Brussels, and defend its decisions in Parliament.

Pepijn Kennis, MP for Agora, admits that Agora’s strategy of running in elections might seem counterintuitive at first. “As a movement, we’re very much inspired by the book Against Elections by David Van Reybrouck,” he tells me from his office in the Regional Parliament. Agora shares Van Reybrouck’s view that elections nowadays tend to prioritise short-term thinking at the expense of genuine democracy.
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Cook: Sortition is an element in a war on civilization

Michael Cook, editor of MercatorNet, issues a strong warning against the Extinction Rebellion movement. Here are some excerpts:

Extinction Rebellion’s loopy politics

The movement’s “Declaration of Rebellion”, a pastiche of America’s “Declaration of Independence”, states: “We hereby declare the bonds of the social contract to be null and void, which the government has rendered invalid by its continuing failure to act appropriately. We call upon every principled and peaceful citizen to rise with us.”

Declaring the “social contract” null and void is a radical step – so radical that either the author did not understand it (unlikely) or he thought that no one else would (likely). Stopping traffic? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This is a declaration of war on civilization.

There is but one rational, ethical, and spiritual position on climate change. None other is possible. “The ecological crises that are impacting upon this nation, and indeed this planet and its wildlife can no longer be ignored, denied nor go unanswered by any beings of sound rational thought, ethical conscience, moral concern, or spiritual belief,” the declaration says.

In a democracy, questioning an opponent’s sincerity about his convictions is the ultimate offence. Convictions are tested by rational debate, not by smearing people as venal, wicked or stupid. But this is just what XR is doing.

XR demands that countries go “beyond politics”. “Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.” Why? Because “Political power in the UK is in the hands of a few elected politicians” says the “Our Demands” page on the XR website. This, of course, is true. Putting power in the hands of elected politicians is called representative democracy and it has a long and successful history of defending political and personal freedom.
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First German National Citizens’ Assembly on DemoPart: the Rise of the “Alloted Citizen”

On September 28 in Leipzig, “Phase 2” of the first ever German citizens’ assembly “Bürgerrat Demokratie” concluded its second and last weekend of deliberation on whether and how to “complete or improve [ergänzen]” Germany’s representative democracy “with elements of direct democracy or citizen participation.” On November 15, a day dubbed “Tag für die Demokratie,” the 160 participants, together with 100s more from the “regional conferences” from Phase 1, will ceremoniously present their recommendations to the President of the Bundestag, Dr Wolfgang Schäuble. I was present in Leipzig on all four days of the assembly as observer along with a few researchers, journalists, and an evaluation team from Goethe University’s “Democracy Innovation” lab. A camera crew filmed the entire event, including the small group discussion at one of the tables. The documentary will be released sometime in 2020.

This was a civil society initiative prompted by the “Grand Coalition” [GroKo] agreement between the SPD and CDU/CSU. Article 13 (pg 136) of that agreement includes a promise to research (via an expert commission) the possibility that “our precious representative parliamentary democracy could be completed with elements of direct democracy or citizen participation.” Nearly two years later, that expert commission has still not even begun to materialize. Seizing the opportunity, a civil society initiative called Mehr Demokratie (more democracy) raised money and organized this even in “four phases” with the help of two institutes that run participatory fora for local and regional governments and organizations: Nexus and Ifok. Of high interest to “sortinistas” will be this brochure about “Losverfahren” (procedure by lot) also handed out to the participants last Saturday at the end of the assembly.
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Sortition in France – discussion and application

Discussion and application of sortition continue to be very active in the Francophone world. Here are some recent examples:

Guyancourt: “Décidons ensemble” [“Let’s decide together”] are forming their list of candidates for the municipal elections by knocking on door number 20 in each street.

From the Popular initiative to sortition: the responses to the crisis of representation – a discussion with Yves Sintomer, Dimitri Courant, and Clément Mabi.

Random interactions in the Chamber: How allocating legislators’ seats at random affects their behavior.

Allotting candidates for the Paris municipal elections.

An allotted citizen council in Sion, Switzerland will publish positions on the propositions on the Swiss ballot.

The French Citizen Convention on the Climate

Le Monde reported on August 26th (original in French):

The citizen convention on the climate: the allotment of 150 participants has commenced

This citizen convention, which is one of Emmanuel Macron’s responses to the “Gilets Jaunes” crisis, will propose measures to combat global warming.

The allotment of 150 Frenchpeople who will take part in the Citizen Convention on the Climate has begun on Monday, August 26th and will last until the end of September, before meeting for the first time at the beginning of October. This citizen convention, aimed by Emmanuel Macron as one of the rseponses to the grand debate that followed the “Gilets Jaunes” crisis, will propose measures to combat global warming, as France is far from meeting its obligations.

Telephone numbers are going to be automatically generated – 85% mobile numbers and 15% landline numbers – and about 25,000 people will be called, in order to select 150. Some criteria have been set in order to get the best representation: 52% women and 48% men, 6 age groups (starting at age 16), levels of educational attainment, a diversity of professions. Regional population will also be taken into account with 4 oversea representatives, as well as representation of urban centers, their surrounding areas and the rural areas.
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Procaccia: Lotteries Instead of Elections? Not So Arbitrary

Ariel Procaccia, an associate professor in the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University, has an opinion piece in Bloomberg News advocating sortition. Some excerpts:

Have you ever thought that 535 random people off the street would do a decidedly better job than the duly elected members of the U.S. Congress? If so, you’ve been scooped by a few millenniums; the idea of selecting government officials at random, known as sortition, is neither as outrageous nor as original as it seems.

In the fourth and fifth centuries BC, some of the central organs of the Athenian government were populated by selecting random volunteers. For example, the members of the Council of 500 — whose responsibilities included developing legislation, overseeing the executive branch and managing diplomatic relations — were selected at random for one-year terms.

During the Renaissance, sortition was all the rage. For centuries it played a key role in the process of selecting the Doge of Venice, as well as in populating the branches of the Florentine government. It was also employed widely throughout the Kingdom of Aragon, which is part of modern-day Spain. [King Ferdinand II of Aragon spoke highly of the virtues of sortition. Unfortunately, he also established the Spanish Inquisition and ordered the expulsion of practicing Jews from his kingdom, so he is hardly an authority on governance.] Sortition actually endured as a system of government into the 20th century: San Marino’s two heads of state were selected at random from 60 councilors as recently as 1945. [The two heads of state constitute a non-negligible fraction of the minuscule country’s population.]

Procaccia mentions in quick succession David Van Reybrouck, Terrill Bouricius, citizens’ assemblies, Ireland, and the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and finishes off with:

Admittedly, even the Belgian initiative is still a long way off from a Bouricius-style sortition utopia — and the jury is still out on whether we’d want to go that far. But it’s comforting to think that the best fix for our political chaos may be a bit of randomness.