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Local democracy

Political systems across the world are being captured by corporate interests, seriously eroding the democratic process. Decentralizing political power through deliberative, direct and participatory democracy is a crucial step towards addressing our most urgent crises. Here are some of the many emerging strategies for strengthening local direct democracy.

Local democracy Actions
Organize a citizens' assembly.
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Organize a citizens' assembly.

Citizens' assemblies (or juries) are one method of direct democracy. They involve a randomly selected group of local residents who deliberate on key issues and generate policy recommendations. Citizens' assemblies are being designed and implemented in many places to address urgent issues like the climate emergency. 

Take action

  • Citizens’ Assemblies: Guide to Democracy that Works is a comprehensive guide to the rationale, organization and impacts of citizens’ assemblies.
  • Learn about citizens’ climate assemblies and juries and how to design, facilitate and implement them with the Extinction Rebellion Guide to Citizens’ Assemblies for activists.
  • UK-based Shared Future created this guide to climate assemblies, specifically aimed at local governments.  
  • Another UK-based guide for local governments on running a citizens' assembly was created by the Royal Society for the Arts and several British ministries.
  • For a deep dive into the why and how of citizens’ assemblies – both in general and as applied to the climate crisis – check out this amazing set of resources – books, articles, reports, videos, websites and podcasts – curated by Extinction Rebellion NYC, and this set by Extinction Rebellion UK.
     

    Get inspired

  • The Leeds (UK) Climate Change Citizens’ Jury met in 2019 and developed a set of robust recommendations to the Leeds city council.
  • Scotland's Climate assembly met to discuss "How should Scotland change to tackle the climate emergency in an effective and fair way?" They have created an interim report.
  • The UK Climate Assembly was formed of "100+ people from all walks of life and shades of opinion" who met over six weekends to discuss the UK's climate goals. Their report was issued in September 2020.

Organize a citizens' assembly.

Citizens' assemblies (or juries) are one method of direct democracy. They involve a randomly selected group of local residents who deliberate on key issues and generate policy recommendations. Citizens' assemblies are being designed and implemented in many places to address urgent issues like the climate emergency. 

Take action

  • Citizens’ Assemblies: Guide to Democracy that Works is a comprehensive guide to the rationale, organization and impacts of citizens’ assemblies.
  • Learn about citizens’ climate assemblies and juries and how to design, facilitate and implement them with the Extinction Rebellion Guide to Citizens’ Assemblies for activists.
  • UK-based Shared Future created this guide to climate assemblies, specifically aimed at local governments.  
  • Another UK-based guide for local governments on running a citizens' assembly was created by the Royal Society for the Arts and several British ministries.
  • For a deep dive into the why and how of citizens’ assemblies – both in general and as applied to the climate crisis – check out this amazing set of resources – books, articles, reports, videos, websites and podcasts – curated by Extinction Rebellion NYC, and this set by Extinction Rebellion UK.
     

    Get inspired

  • The Leeds (UK) Climate Change Citizens’ Jury met in 2019 and developed a set of robust recommendations to the Leeds city council.
  • Scotland's Climate assembly met to discuss "How should Scotland change to tackle the climate emergency in an effective and fair way?" They have created an interim report.
  • The UK Climate Assembly was formed of "100+ people from all walks of life and shades of opinion" who met over six weekends to discuss the UK's climate goals. Their report was issued in September 2020.
Implement participatory budgeting where you live.
Expand Action
Implement participatory budgeting where you live.

Participatory budgeting is a way for citizens to actively engage in deciding how their tax money is spent. Local residents not only discuss and vote on public investments, they also develop and present ideas. Participatory budgeting has been implemented by more than 2,700 governments and 1,700 cities worldwide.
 

Take Action 

Implement participatory budgeting where you live.

Participatory budgeting is a way for citizens to actively engage in deciding how their tax money is spent. Local residents not only discuss and vote on public investments, they also develop and present ideas. Participatory budgeting has been implemented by more than 2,700 governments and 1,700 cities worldwide.
 

Take Action 

Launch a Flatpack Democracy campaign.
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Launch a Flatpack Democracy campaign.

Started by citizens of Frome, UK in 2015, Flatpack Democracy is a movement helping communities to “reclaim local politics from the systems and political parties that are currently failing them” by contesting and winning local elections.

Take action

  • Learn about the movement and its strategies in the books by founder Peter Macfadyen, including Flatpack Democracy: A DIY Guide to Creating Independent Politics, and Flatpack Democracy 2.0: Power Tools for Reclaiming Local Politics._ _Both are available from the Flatpack Democracy website.  

Get inspired

Launch a Flatpack Democracy campaign.

Started by citizens of Frome, UK in 2015, Flatpack Democracy is a movement helping communities to “reclaim local politics from the systems and political parties that are currently failing them” by contesting and winning local elections.

Take action

  • Learn about the movement and its strategies in the books by founder Peter Macfadyen, including Flatpack Democracy: A DIY Guide to Creating Independent Politics, and Flatpack Democracy 2.0: Power Tools for Reclaiming Local Politics._ _Both are available from the Flatpack Democracy website.  

Get inspired

Voices from the field

Policy

Even in so-called democracies, politicians and governments tend to be reluctant to relinquish power and endow ordinary citizens and residents with the ability to have a direct say in matters that affect their lives - that is, to practice democracy! Sometimes a sympathetic elected official can help promote experiments in direct democracy. Other times, it may be necessary for a social movement to contest and win seats and take over the local government. Citizen's assemblies can also organize and formulate people's policy platforms autonomously, and pressure existing governments to adopt them. Whatever the strategy, it is clear that while the theories and practice of direct, participatory, local democracy explored here may not be welcome within staid halls of power, they are necessary if we hope to transcend the status quo.

Resources

  • See how and why participatory democracy is important and effective for addressing environmental issues in Our Money, Our Planet: Engaging Citizens in the Climate Emergency through Participatory Democracy, from Shared Future and PB Partners (UK). 
  • Participedia enables you to explore hundreds of examples of direct democracy methods and case studies from around the world – from deliberative polling to community forestry to participatory planning. 
  • The Resources page from People Powered contains hundreds of tools, guides, case studies and more in numerous languages to support people in “making the policy decisions that affect their lives.”  
  • The book Can Democracy Safeguard the Future? by Graham Smith argues that "forms of participatory and deliberative politics offer the most effective democratic response to the current political myopia, as well as a powerful means of protecting the interests of generations to come.” 
  • In his book We Decide! Theories and Cases in Participatory Democracy, Michael Menser argues that democratic theory and practice need to shift from focusing on elections and representation to sharing power and property in government and the economy.