A ward assembly is a meeting where residents come together to collectively engage on the challenges affecting the community and make decisions. We share experiences, deliberate on the best way forward, and try to make decisions in a way that builds consensus so that it is the right decision for most people.
Ward assemblies can be informative and educational, they can be informal discussions or they can be formal meetings where mechanisms are put in place to ensure that decisions taken are binding.
Assemblies can be held in person or they can be held online – there are many platforms available which encourage participation and joint decision making. We do not need the permission of Council to establish mechanisms for collective decision making in our ward together with our Councillor and representatives from all voting districts so everyone’s voice is included.
Chicago’s 1970s experiment in radical democracy
In the 1970s, the city of Chicago in the USA was governed by the Democratic Party through channels of corruption and patronage. Not happy with this state of affairs, one Chicago Alderman (the equivalent of a Ward Councillor) – Dick Simpson – led a campaign for a radical new kind of democracy in his ward. Simpson established the 44th Ward Assembly and put ward politics under the direct control of those who lived there. This assembly was open for anyone to attend, but voting power was reserved for delegates from 63 precincts within the ward, as well as delegates from civic organisations. Importantly, the 44th Ward Assembly had actual political power, where Alderman Simpson agreed to be bound by decisions passed by the assembly.
This kind of assembly is called to support a government decision-making body by making specific recommendations on a particular issue on behalf of the public. The assembly members are usually chosen randomly, but with a requirement that overall the assembly be demographically representative, in terms of age, race, gender etc. The Citizen Assembly can have access to significant resources when deliberating on the issue at hand, like expert testimony, and is at heart a way to bring citizens closer to decision making.
In 2018, Extinction Rebellion called for a citizens’ assembly to oversee the decarbonisation of the UK economy; and at the end of 2019 the UK Government convened a 110-member citizens’ assembly to make recommendations on the best ways to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.