ABOUT THE ASSEMBLY
CitizensUK is the national home of community organising, and the largest coalition of civil society organisations in the UK. Our goal is to increase the power of communities to participate in public life through alliances of society’s institutions (churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, schools, charities, trade union branches, etc.) negotiating with those with power to affect the lives of ordinary people.
The CitizensUK General Election Assembly on 3 May, three days before the nation goes to the polls in one of the tightest ever races in British electoral history, will be the largest public gathering of the general election campaign, and the last time that David Cameron, Nick Clegg and a senior Labour representative will seek from the same stage public endorsement for their platforms.
Unlike the TV debates, seen by millions but directly involving very few people, the CitizensUK is a rare and powerful example of authentic democracy:
* 2,500 people drawn from member institutions
* negotiating with the party leaders
* on their own “peoples’ agenda”.
That agenda – on wages, immigration, housing, financial regulation – is the product of countless meetings and local assemblies held by member institutions of the various alliances which make up CitizensUK, of which the largest and oldest is London Citizens.
The alliances have come into being through the patient work of community organisers over many years, bringing community institutions together around common values and shared interests and concerns.
Each alliance – London Citizens, as well as new organisations in Milton Keynes, Oxford and elsewhere – is governed by the leaders of its member institutions, which pay dues and have an equal vote in choosing and prioritising the changes we call for.
In this way, CitizensUK has since 1996 earned the right to be called a leading voice of civil society. By attending our assembly, the party leaders are recognising the significance of civil society in modern Britain.
The CitizensUK agenda represents not the interests and values of individuals alone, but calls for change arising from associations of people who have learned the arts of democracy through training and public action. It is the result of listening to the priorities and concerns of member institutions, which are in turn close to ordinary people - -especially the poorer and more vulnerable in society. The agenda has been voted on, refined, debated and pursued over many years. In its six points, it captures the priorities of civil society.
Unlike a hustings, there will be no questions from the floor. An individual question represents an individual concern. Rather, the assembly chairs – leaders in the community institutions – will hold the party leaders to account to our agenda, after listening attentively to their vision of why their Government would be best for civil society.
Unlike a debate, the discussions among leaders of citizens’ organisations have taken place prior to the assembly. A citizens’ assembly is an opportunity publicly to negotiate. Citizens UK is non-partisan, and willing to work with anyone committed to democracy and the common good.
We are the antidote to what the Conservative Party describes as the ‘broken society’. We build trust and understanding. We organise people to tackle problems at the level at which they are best tackled – hence, for example, the CItySafe campaign, which creates safe streets by building relationships between local institutions and shops.
But we do ask the state to act where Government must take responsibility – capping interest rates, expanding mutual lending, ending child detention, etc. And we call on the market to take responsibility by, for example, paying a living wage, capping interest rates or enabling a pathway into citizenship for long-term undocumented migrants. In this way we hold both state and market to account, in the belief that a stronger civil society helps both to function better.
We are the antidote to political apathy. Our practical understanding of politics, the pragmatic way in which pursue goods by building relationships with those with power, our training in the methods of community organising and by means of large assembly halls crammed with committed, thoughtful people who hear testimonies from those most affected by the issues we care about – in all these ways, citizen politics has re-energised British democracy.
We have influenced the party platforms and manifestos in a number of ways. The Liberal-Democrat commitment to a form of regularisation follows Nick Clegg’s meeting with representatives of our Strangers into Citizens campaign in 2007. The Labour manifesto commitment to a living wage and curbing interest reflects the influence of London Citizens. The Conservative vision sees community organising as vital to realising the “Big Society”, and looks to CitizensUK to do the training.
We seek a relationship with whichever party or parties form the next government. We ask them to recognise us as the voice of civil society, to hear its concerns and act on them. The Assembly on 3 May is the beginning of that relationship – and the beginning of a new kind of democratic politics.