Democracy means power of the people. In other words, the people are sovereign, with space for differences and diversity. Everyone has an equal right to be heard and to contribute to how society is run. To do this, people have to be able to use the instruments of power, to have the opportunity to take part in debates, and participate in making decisions.
The word 'democracy' comes from the Greek words 'Demos' - meaning 'people' - and 'Kratos' - or 'power'. The Greeks were one of the first civilisations to experiment with democracy.
People are diverse and have different ideas and interests, and these must be heard and taken into account in a systematic and formalised way. If the people are 'sovereign', and have the power, then it has to be possible for every person either to be the one in charge, or the one being governed. And to exercise power in a sovereign way, it is necessary for everyone to have access to the information, and also be able to participate in the debate, express their opinions and take a stand. To make this possible, we need structures that encourage everyone to get involved in an equal and fair way, and be able to exchange and compare their ideas. To give the process legitimacy, everyone must be engaged in the debates and also contribute to formulating proposals for legislation.
The current system of representative democracy currently both lacks legitimacy and is ineffective. People no longer feel that their elected representatives truly represent them, and those in charge find it increasingly difficult to fulfill their role as rulers.
Many people no longer trust their elected officials. And not just because of the lack of transparency or repeated corruption and scandals. Today's decision-makers are not sufficiently representative of our diverse society. We are governed by our leaders, yet most of us do not participate in political life. And even though we have the right to vote, we can only express how we feel during the elections, once every five years. Moreover, at election time we are only allowed to choose between a set number of political professionals, and we have very little ability to hold these elected officials to account. In addition, it is difficult for a politician to know what people really need or what difficulties they have. Elected officials seem to be motivated by the need to win the elections above everything else, rather than by the desire to improve people's daily lives.
Drawing lots helps to strengthen democracy. Our aim is to build the democracy of the twenty-first century. The initial idea is to expand the current system by adding an assembly of Brussels residents who are selected randomly by lot.
Belgium only has one type of democracy, which we call representative democracy based on elections. But other options do exist. As early as antiquity, Greek citizens benefitted from a system of drawing lots which allowed them to switch between being ruled and being the rulers, thus making them more motivated and encouraging them to act with greater integrity, while also giving them better knowledge of real life, both of the people and of politics.
Our approach aims to draw inspiration from the models of the past to develop a more egalitarian system, based on the principles of participatory democracy which have been successfully tested by many communities in the past, and improved over the centuries. Brussels is in a position to welcome this democratic renewal, which goes much further than simple citizen consultation.
*Our movement's objective is to make selection of representatives by lot into an established aspect of the institutions of power in the Brussels-Capital Region.
We therefore propose that:
(1) we will collect and share information about the use of selection by lot as a system of governance. This will help spread knowledge and foster reflection in Brussels.
(2) we will study the options for integrating selection by lot in a sustainable way into the Belgian and Brussels systems, taking into account our specific context.
(3) we will support the establishment of actual assemblies of Brussels residents selected by lot, in order to promote participatory democracy as part of a transition towards a more sustainable system focusing on the common good of everyone.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and come meet us soon!
In more detail... Our inspirations
Of course not everyone agrees with the arguments put forward by Van Reybrouck. And thank goodness for that, since we're living in a democracy!
You can find a Marxist critique on the LAVA website (in French) here.
Nonetheless, the idea has inspired researchers, politicians and activists throughout the world. We encourage you to read more about it here:
In Ireland, a commission of 100 randomly selected citizens developed proposals for changes to the constitution in 2016. You can read their story here.
In Belgium, numerous articles refer to the possibility of establishing a senate consisting of people selected at random, and there was a survey exploring whether current attitudes amongst citizens and politicians regarding random selection. You can find an article (in French) in the Revue Politique, and a documentary on RTBF here (also in French). The results of the survey about random selection can be found here.
Moreover, the experience of the G1000, which brought together over 700 participants in 2011 to discuss current themes in Belgian politics, was reflected on a global scale.
Researchers have also explored the question. Two recent and interesting articles can be found here: Bouricius, Terrill G. (2013). La démocratie à tirage au sort multi-institutionnel: Leçons athéniennes pour les temps modernes.
The malaise of electoral democracy and what to do about it : http://www.rethinkingbelgium.eu/rebel-initiative-files/ebooks/ebook-14/Re-Bel-e-book-14.pdf