As the daily news about the tragedy of coronavirus envelops us in a seemingly inescapable embrace, it is easy to feel powerless, swept up in the motion of forces beyond our control.
This powerlessness can provide a breeding ground for extremist ideas. It can also be a fertile ground for hope. It is the latter towards which Saturday’s event aimed.
An exercise in participatory democracy, the Public Assembly (held on Saturday 23rd January) invited everyone “to exchange ideas and opinions” on such issues as the Government’s response to the Covid crisis and what we as citizens can do when we feel the Government is not doing enough.
The Public Assembly was the brainchild of a small group of activists including Dr Diana Warner, who was unable to attend the event due to being held on remand for her continued non-compliance in legal proceedings brought against her for her activism.
With some 40 participants, the event was perhaps not quite the breakthrough moment envisaged. Nevertheless, the event spread the work about participatory democracy to a wider audience and no doubt made some people keen to explore the idea further.
The first hour saw 3 speakers give their expert opinion on the Covid crisis, what it is, where it came from, and the Government’s response.
All speakers were united in their belief that the coronavirus has been largely the result of human encroachment on natural habitats.
By far the most impactful talk came from the third speaker, a nurse who gave a powerful presentation demonstrating not only the effect of Covid on the human body, but also how viruses like Coronavirus emerge.
Once the talks were finished, attendees were split into breakout room of 5 or 6 people for a facilitated discussion of the talks and the general question: I FORGET THE QUESTION…. Something like “what can we as citizens do when the government is not responding to the evidence to deal with the crisis?”
Within my own group, discussion ranged from the value of civil disobedience and arrest to the role of the media and journalism in holding (or failing to hold) politicians to account.
It was one sizeable downside of the event that no clear purpose for our discussion was given. To whom would our collectively gathered ideas by presented? What impact would they have (if any, ever) in the world?
Remembering that this was an event organized by volunteers, however, we should not dwell on that issue. Instead, we should see Saturday’s Public Assembly as one piece in a long term project to hold back the tides that currently sweep us, and to create space for pause, discussion, for speaking and listening. In this, the Public Assembly was an encouraging experience.