‘An ancient form of democracy that gives power to ordinary people to make an impact on decisions that affect us all.’
That’s how XR (Extinction Rebellion) Bristol describe their Big Conversation, an event through which they hope to encourage members of the public to gather to share personal experiences, insights and expertise on the question of what to do about the climate, ecological and cost of living crises.
The Big Conversation takes place at Gloucester County Cricket Ground from 3.30pm. It takes the form of a people’s assembly, a form of participatory democracy favoured and popularised by XR – although not invented by the group – in which everyone is invited to speak and collective decisions can be made.
XR Bristol say that the Big Conversation is not a lecture, a sales pitch or a recruitment exercise but rather a conversation to hear from voices from across communities who are not listened to nearly enough and who live on the front lines of the challenges we face.
Neil Bee, a local XR member, said: ‘I’m taking part in the People’s Assembly and in XR activities as I want my children and nephews to grow up healthy. We know that children, including adolescents under the age of 18, are often more vulnerable than the general population to the health impacts of climate change, so we have to take action now.’
Earlier in the day, XR will also be present in the city centre as the Change is Now bus tour arrives to bring speakers, performers, music, food, art and conversation about the cost of living, climate and ecological crises.
The Change is Now tour is a nation-wide venture raising awareness about the climate and ecological crisis, and how it connects to the cost-of-living crisis.
Visiting towns and cities across the UK the tour will advocate for Citizen’s Assemblies, another form of participatory democracy more formalised than a people’s assembly in which members of the public are chosen at random, like a jury, to deliberate political or social questions.
In Bristol, the bus will park on Narrow Quay from 11am and be present until 2pm when it will drive to the county cricket ground in time for the Big Conversation. The tour will continue on to 60 towns and cities including Bangor, Bournemouth, Dublin, Cardiff, Manchester, Inverness, Carlisle, Durham.
A spokesperson for the Change is Now Tour, said: ‘Our political systems are out of date, out of touch and can’t cope with the crises we face, focused on divisive debates rather than coming together to solve real problems.
‘It is clear that the collective intelligence and common sense of ordinary people can help us to face the real world far better than our lobbied, biased, corrupt politicians.’
Bristol made headlines in 2021 when it hosted a citizen’s assembly of 60 randomly chosen members of the public tasked with responding to the question: How do we recover from COVID-19 and create a better future for all in Bristol?
The assembly resulted in 17 recommendations and 82 individual actions for the council and wider city to make. The process has been criticised, however, for not going far enough to implement the recommendations.