By John M Repp
On Friday February 24, 2023, Alex Fryer, a Seattle Times opinion columnist, published an opinion piece describing a people’s assembly and suggesting that Seattle try to use the concept to cut through the horrible disfunction in the political life of the city. A people’s assembly gathers two-dozen or so people, selected at random, like a jury, and presents them with a thorny issue. The people are offered experts and any background materials they need, as they discuss the issue and try to come up with recommendations and reach a 70% consensus. Their recommendations would then go to the mayor or City Council. The key is: would the elected officials institute the recommendations.
This idea is not new. It has been tried successfully around the world. There is an organization in Paris that works to spread the concept and explain best practices. Most of the people’s assemblies have been convened by local governments, but the idea has worked on a national level as well. In 2017, an Irish people’s assembly met for five weeks to deliberate the hot topic of abortion in that traditional Catholic country. They recommended that abortion be legalized and later, 66% of Irish voters approved a referendum that did just that. Decades of contentious political debate was ended.
People’s Assemblies are also called Citizen’s Assemblies and a few other names. Demnext.org is a non-profit organization based in Paris working to get people’s assemblies into the political life of the European Union. There, like here in the U.S., key institutions of democratic governance have recently shown weaknesses. Elections can be influenced by money. The free press, and the right of free speech can be influenced by well-funded and well organized disinformation campaigns, from bad actors, inside or outside the effected country.
[The following description is of a past event, but the link below now leads to an audio recording of the event]
On Friday, March 3, 2023 at 7:30 pm PT Town Hall Seattle and DemocracyNext will present “The Future of Democracy”:
What would the world look like if we shifted political and legislative power to everyday people — on the premise that everyone is worthy and capable of being involved in collective decision-making?
Claudia Chwalisz seeks to answer that question. She believes another democratic future is possible and strives to create a more just, joyful, and collaborative future where everyone has meaningful power to shape their societies.
By researching, implementing, and reporting on new forms of representative democratic institutions, such as permanent citizens’ councils, where representation passes through sortition (selection by lottery), Claudia hopes to enable everyone to explore how institutions can adopt new forms of the democratic process.
Claudia Chwalisz is an author, activist, and entrepreneur. She is the Founder and CEO of DemocracyNext, a research and action institute working to shift political and legislative power to everyday people through empowered Citizens’ Assemblies.
Marcus Harrison Green is the publisher of the South Seattle Emerald and a columnist with The Seattle Times.
Brandi Kruse is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and political commentator. After nearly a decade with the FOX affiliate in Seattle, she left to launch unDivided, an independent political show and podcast that gives a voice to Americans who feel silenced by the fringes of both parties. Brandi is a Minnesota native and graduate of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska.