A popular assembly (or people's assembly) is a gathering called to address issues of importance to participants. Assemblies tend to be freely open to participation and operate by direct democracy. People’s Assemblies are a way for groups to discuss or agree decisions collectively and focus on inclusive participation and ensuring that spaces are not dominated by any one person or group. They are one of several approaches to participatory democracy. They are a valuable tool for transformative community-led action because in many cases groups can be influenced by ‘the usual suspects’ in communities or through pre-existing relationships within organisations. People’s Assemblies offer a means through which to empower participants and to value the contributions of others.
Differences between People's Assemblies and Citizen's Assemblies
People’s Assemblies are different from Citizen's Assemblies in the way they are governed, although both use assemblies as a means to convene people in an inclusive, facilitated and non-judgemental environment. Citizen's Assemblies are ordinary people and are randomly selected through a Sortition process to help select a representative sample of the population, ensuring age, gender, class, ethnicity and geography are represented, for instance. They also tend to last for a longer period of time and tend to be geared towards policy influence or resolving a particular issue. In contrast, People’s Assemblies are not necessarily seeking to be representative, rather they welcome the contributions of those who want to participate (i.e. they are self-selecting). People’s Assemblies also tend to be shorter, a matter of minutes or hours rather than days as is the case for Citizen’s Assemblies. People’s Assemblies are also linked to informing the wider social movement of activists, for instance in Extinction Rebellion (XR).
People's Assemblies and Extinction Rebellion
XR use participatory democracy processes, such as people’s assemblies, to model participatory democracy within the movement, generate ideas, gather feedback and make decisions. (See https://extinctionrebellion.uk/act-now/resources/peoples-assemblies/ for a more detailed comparison between the two approaches). Extinction Rebellion emphasises three pillars in their use of People’s Assemblies:
1. Radical Inclusivity - where people can be listened to without judgement and efforts are taken to ensure people can actively participate and remove barriers to engagement (e.g. physical access or childcare).
2. Active Listening - hearing people before prejudging what some has to say, helping to encourage empathy and understanding of others.
3. Trust - encouraging people to trust the process whatever the outcome and encourage others to follow what has been agreed upon.