We do not trust our Government to make the bold, swift and long-term changes necessary to achieve these changes and we do not intend to hand further power to our politicians. Instead we demand a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage, creating a democracy fit for purpose.The Third Demand
The Citizens’ Assembly (CA) is a new concept to many. Everyone is familiar with juries – a random selection of adult citizens chosen to listen to legal arguments in civil and criminal cases, deliberate in confidence, and then render verdicts. But how could such a process work to “oversee the changes” required to deal with the climate crisis?
Briefly, the CA process, which has already been implemented (among other places) in the UK on the local level and in France on the national level, is the following. Invitations to participate in a Citizens’ Assembly are mailed out to random households, based on a national database. Respondents – residents, not necessarily citizens in the UK example – accept. Based on the response, a second set of invitations is mailed out to traditionally under-represented, often low income, people. Then, a group that most closely represents the demographics of the population is put together. The assembly convenes (probably online for the foreseeable future as the pandemic continues) to listen to experts, weigh evidence, bring forth demands, debate and eventually agree on a plan.
(For more detailed explanations, please see this Extinction Rebellion explainer on the Third Demand.)
In France, the task before the CA currently in session is to prepare a series of policies on how the nation will cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2030. These policy proposals will be presented to the Parliament to become executive orders, or for some issues, the basis of a national referendum. This Citizens’ Assembly has “teeth” as the process goes well beyond asking for public opinion or demands. It is the child of the “Yellow Jackets” movement which began in rural small towns as low- to moderate-income communities rebelled at an unfair gasoline tax and grew to a national uprising with huge protests over economic injustice every single Saturday for over a year.
As Americans, we may look on with envy as other countries choose this method of giving the people a chance to deliberate and decide on policy, in a rational, peaceful manner. We are so polarized, so given to violent disagreement. But then, so were the Irish on abortion—until a Citizens’ Assembly there, to the surprise of many, led to a national referendum to legalize the procedure.
In recent weeks, Portlanders have had a sort of Citizens’ Assembly in the streets. We have gathered in parks and plazas to listen to experts, in this case Black and biracial people who know all too much about racism and police brutality, give their testimony. The City Council has been flooded with over 60,000 emails and 7 hours of public testimony on moving money away from the police forces and toward unmet social needs. “A change gonna come” in the words of the old Sam Cooke song.
Like the French, we have expressed in every possible way, from freeway-taking marches of thousands to small neighborhood vigils, from chalk murals to militant protests in front of the Justice Center, our dissatisfactions, and our passion for a new public order.
Citizens’ Assemblies on the climate crisis CAN happen here. Portland would make a great first example. We just have to make it happen. The climate crisis isn’t on pause while the new pandemic and the old curse of racism devastate our city and country. 2020 is on track to be the hottest year on record, and I don’t just mean politically.
Long ago, the American Revolution inspired the French people. In this fraught and dangerous moment, we can take inspiration from the French.
“I believe we will succeed together because we really want it… And next year we will say, we did not know it was impossible, so we did it.”Pierre, member of the Citizens’ Assembly of France