WE DIT IT!
A little over a week ago now, the recommendations of the first cohort of citizens of the Brussels Citizens' Assembly (BCA) organised by Agora were signed and given to our representative in Parliament. We have come so far!
A little over two years ago now, a few dreamers gathered around a table to talk about democracy, structural change and citizens' assemblies. Agora was born! Then the movement went into the campaign to try to win a seat in the Brussels parliament and give a direct voice to citizens. Once the seat was miraculously obtained in 2019, the Assembly gradually put itself in place: drawing by lot of, invitations, door to door.
And so the Brussels Citizens' Assembly was born! A place for people to gather, of all genders, from different backgrounds, ages and opinions. A place of discussion, confrontation and, ultimately, deliberation. What a richness to have this in the Brussels landscape!
After an introductory day with lots of information, the participants selected by lot chose a theme: housing. This is to be followed by many meetings, exchanges, agreements and disagreements, a lot of learning and a common feeling of having something to say and having a small opportunity to do it with real decision-making power.
We are very proud of these proposals, not only for their content but also (indeed, above all) for the whole process that created them, despite the many difficulties, in particular related to the public health crisis. The proposals can be accessed here: https://assemblee.brussels/.
The Agora project does not happen in isolation. It is part of a much broader vision whose limits are not always clear or defined, and which aims to include all citizens – regardless of their social origin, gender or age – in political decision-making. One of the crucial roles of Agora is to demonstrate that it is possible to organise this Assembly, that it will yield results and a good number of satisfying moments.
Let us move towards more participation, more deliberation, more diversity and, ultimately, more democracy. Although it is often hard to define the precise value of these terms, we can try, in small steps, to get as close to them as possible.
We collected some reactions from the citizens when we delivered the proposals - most of whom had profiles that are rarely (if ever) found in politics. Here are some of the things they said:
“I will miss all of you. I see the world differently today. I have been very, very happy to spend this year with you."
"We must never doubt that it's possible for institutions to evolve towards more democracy."
"It opened my eyes to a lot of things. If everyone had the opportunity to communicate and meet like we did, the world would be a better place."
"I learned a lot, especially about the city. Being part of this experience is very enlightening, even more so for a person like me who comes from abroad. Being involved in this has helped me understand a lot about our institutions and politics."
"Together, we can achieve something. It is possible for us to not just observe but to participate in all this."
"I've been part of a family that was supportive in every possible way. Thank you to all these people who have been invested in this."
"What will remain in my memory for the rest of my life is the extraordinary way in which the members of Agora and the other assembly members welcomed us. They made it all possible."
Agora is now present in the political arena, where most decisions are made for our region. We have therefore already introduced the citizens' resolution to be discussed in the housing committee. We hope to find political support there to implement the proposals. We have another crucial role to play at this level, to convince other actors in the political world that this project makes sense and that it is moving us towards a better, and more democratic place.
Mr. Petya Obolensky, President .of the Housing Committee in the Brussels Parliament, reacted to the proposals of the Brussels Citizens' Assembly, in response to the invitation from Agora, this Saturday, December 12, 2020:
"I think these are extremely urgent issues. There is a real housing crisis in Brussels, especially in terms of accessibility. There is a ten year wait to have social housing, a huge number of people live on the streets. It's important to put that on the table. Unoccupied buildings are a major problem. There are an immense number of unoccupied houses and apartments, due in particular to a great deal of real estate speculation. It is very important now to present this clearly to parliament. I congratulate you on this process."
And here is the reaction of Jonathan Moskovic, advisor on democratic innovation in the francophone Parliament of Brussels:
"Agora's unprecedented experience of electing a parliamentarian to stand for the recommendations of a citizens' assembly is a great success. The collective’s ambition to involve people in the process who are not used to participating in decision-making is not only theoretical – the establishment of active inclusion guidelines and the richness of recommendations prove that deliberative democracy is not just a fad for academics in an ivory tower, but a real way of doing politics differently.
The process of institutionalising deliberative committees in the various Brussels parliaments reflects this desire to permanently involve citizens selected by lot with the desire to co-create and escape from the sole focus on elections that is conducive to short-term solutions."
So it is a real victory for Agora to have passed on these recommendations, written by citizens who were selected by lot from the whole population resident in the Brussels Capital Region. This is what citizen participation looks like!
We are truly very proud of it, and hope there are many more to follow.
We will now go on to draw by lot the future members of the next Assembly cycle.
So, keep an eye on your letter boxes, you could be one of the happy few that are selected!
Once again, thanks to everyone for their support!