“Maybe they expected to have more influence on projects”

An article by Sabrina Nanji in the Toronto Star is an interesting mix between the standard citizen-jury PR and facts that undermine this standard narrative. There is also an appearance by the familiar elite discourse of the struggle of diversity promoting liberalism against conservative white-supremacist ideology.

The story of Toronto’s Planning Review Panel shows one very important aspect (even if a completely foreseeable one) of the surge of sortition in the 21st century: it is being experimented with by established elites for their own purposes (i.e., for its usefulness in buttressing their power) rather than as a tool of democracy.

City of Toronto is looking for your input on urban planning issues

The city is looking for regular folks interested in studying and informing municipal planning policy and projects on the Toronto Planning Review Panel.

Calling all wannabe urban planners and civic champions — Toronto’s planning department wants your advice.

This week 10,000 letters were randomly sent out across the city soliciting regular folks interested in studying and informing municipal planning policy and projects on the Toronto Planning Review Panel, which is wrapping up its first-ever experiment in diverse citizen engagement, to mixed reviews.

Two years after they were recruited, the original 28 panelists will meet for the last time next Saturday and the search is already on for the next batch of volunteers to take up the mantle in January.
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The allotment for the convention of La France insoumise has started

La France insoumise (“France Uprising”, FI) is a Left-wing French political party which was founded in 2016. In the 2017 presidential elections its candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, won almost 20% of the votes in the first round and narrowly missed making it to the second round. FI has presented a platform it calls L’Avenir en commun one plank in which is having a constitutional convention where a certain proportion of the delegates would be selected by lot.

FI is now in the process of having its own internal convention “for setting its new objectives, improving its tools and modes of action and specifying its principles of organization.” This process involves allotting delegates to the convention. FI has now announced that it has sent invitations to those allotted:

The first phase of the sortition has taken place. A list of the first 1,200 people has been drawn. Each one of those people has received a registration form. Those women and men who fill out the form before November 13th will participate in the convention. The unclaimed slots will be redistributed in the second phase of the sortition on Friady, November 10th. There is therefore time for you to participate in the allotment if have done so yet.

P.S.: For the curious, here is the script which we used to implement the sortition.

Arturo Íñiguez: On the meaning of the word ‘democracy’

Arturo Íñiguez, an occasional contributor to Equality-by-Lot, recently published a rather beautiful essay touching upon sortition which weaves together history, linguistics and political philosophy (English, French, Spanish). Well worth reading in its entirety even for people familiar with the idea of sortition, here is an excerpt from the essay:

[R]epresentative regimes can be either aristocratic, if they rely on election, or democratic if they rely on sortition.

According to my experience, a lot of people, when exposed to these truths, will react in complete denial. But the fact is that this has been completely trivial knowledge for political scientists for most or recorded history: from Plato and Aristotle to Montesquieu and Rousseau, in the mid XVIIIth century, all of them wrote the same: elections are aristocratic and sortition is democratic. How come, then, that we have been so thoroughly indoctrinated as to believe the exact opposite of something that was crystal-clear for the greatest human thinkers?

Well, the change began in the late XVIIIth century, when the rich bourgeois in France and North America decided that they would be better off in the future by breaking free from the existing monarchic regime (which after all had not been so bad with them, or they wouldn’t had got so rich in the first place). Needless to say that sharing any power with the poor masses was always completely out the question. The masses would be used to fight the royal armies and then abused into thinking the the victory was also theirs. Both the Founding Fathers and the French revolutionaries were adamant in opposing democracy. Suffice to read what they said and wrote to understand that democracy was for them a very bad and ugly word.

But calling their elective system aristocracy, which would have been the logical thing to do following the philosophical tradition we have just mentioned, was also a no-go. Was not the aristocracy the despised enemy recently destroyed? And at the end they had to settle for a word like ‘republic’, an empty signifier which can mean anything you want it to mean.

A lively discussion followed the essay in the comments and Arturo exhibited the proper democratic mindset and engaged in conversation with some of the commenters. Here, for exmaple, is one comment by a reader and Arturo’s reply:
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Why Executive Power Matters

It’s a bit surprising that this sortition blog hasn’t ventured much into executive power.  Most of the time it’s focused on either legislative power or some other non-executive power.

Not for nothing did one example from Paul Lucardie’s book on radical democratic theory (Democratic Extremism), the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, decide a century ago to appoint a truly revolutionary provisional government to “get things done”: the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom).

That said, sortition today could be applied to traditional cabinets. It could be applied to multiple cabinets in some proposals (state, social, economic, industrial). It could even be applied to the topmost consultative bodies headed by individual ministers, collegia.

Ismael Serageldin: Transparency and Trust in Trying Times

Ismael Serageldin is the Director of the Library of Alexandria, and one of the most well-connected people in the world. In September he delivered a lecture in Latvia (where he was receiving his 38th honorary doctorate) titled “Transparency and Trust in Trying Times” in which he proposes allotting the legislature (PDF). Serageldin developed his enthusiasm for sortition reform after reading David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections: The Case for Democracy and Terrill Bouricius’s paper “Democracy Through Multi-Body Sortition: Athenian Lessons for the Modern Day”. This lecture discusses a range of topics revolving around the deficit of democracy, and the portion about his proposal for a legislature through sortition begins on page 18.

Extract:

We could try to salvage representative democracy – at least for the legislative branch – by adopting a system of sortition.

The problems we see with legislative or parliamentary elections – a backbone of parliamentary representative democracy – can be summed up as:

  • The polarization that leads to paralysis or blockage, as happens in the US congress and as seen in Belgium staying over 500 days without a government.
  • The interference of money in the electoral process which leads to undue influence of the rich, resulting in a generalized feeling of the voters not trusting the parliamentarians or congressmen that they elected.
  • The gerrymandering of individual districts to suit particular interests with a very large preponderance of particular parties wining particular seats
  • The disparity between the shares that different parties get of the actual votes cast and the shares of the seats taken in the parliament
  • The enormous power of incumbency that results in individual deputies being almost invulnerable, with probability of reelection in certain districts exceeding 95%.

Sortition would replace conventional elections. The kind of elections that we have come to take as a given, with political parties vying for power, and entrenched political incumbents getting reelected and a feeling among the public that the elected parliament still does not really represent them, and that in reality things are governed by the elite because money and politics have become too intertwined.

Sortition can respond – at least partially – to these challenges to representative democracy.

Detoxing democracy: Brexit and the considered will of the British people

Nicholas Gruen is an economist, entrepreneur and commentator who has been described by former Australian member of the House of Representatives Lindsay James Tanner as “Australia’s foremost public intellectual”.

On Nov. 6th, Gruen will be giving a talk at King’s College London titled “Detoxing democracy: Brexit and the considered will of the British people”.

Abstract:

Though material conditions played their part, the degradation of politics now so evident in the shock and awe of Brexit and Trump also reflect the way in which elections orient politics around political combat, rather than deliberation and problem solving. Yet Britain could use the ancient Athenian idea of selection by lot – choosing a cross-section of the public to deliberate together to complement elections – to turn its slow-motion crisis into the rebirth of democracy, moving it from government according to the will of the people, and towards the richer, safer notion of government according to the considered will of the people.

An outline of the argument: Detoxing Brexit by detoxing democracy.

Britain’s governing class is now engineering a tragedy that arose from a piece of political improvisation gone horribly wrong. Yet there’s a principled way of handling the situation.
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Interview with John Gastil on Legislature by Lot

3.3 Legislature by Lot with Professor John Gastil

Above is the link to a podcast interview by Real Democracy Now! John Gastil is a Professor in the Communication Arts and Sciences and Political Science at the Pennsylvania State University as well as a Senior Scholar in the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. He studies political deliberation and group decision making across a range of contexts.

In September 2017 John and Erik Olin Wright, as part of the Real Utopias project, held a three-day workshop called Legislature by Lot. Participants included several contributors to this  site, Equality by Lot.  John was interviewed shortly after this workshop to learn more about what was discussed.

John described this workshop as ‘a deliberation about deliberation’.

John spoke about

  • the origins of the Legislature by Lot workshop [1:32]
  • the different ways to implement sortition (random selection) [3:54]
  • some of the arguments in favour of a legislature selected by lot [5:44]
  • different models of sortition [7:40]
  • responding to criticisms of legislature by lot [10:11]
  • how to design an oversight body to support a legislature selected by lot [14:10]
  • the prospect of institutional change and transition strategies [18:34]
  • moving the agenda of using sortition forward [23:43]
  • how much work is happening around the world to test and promote the use of sortition [28:35]
  • what representation and accountability means for bodies selected by sortition [30:29]
  • deliberation, consensus, contention and voting [34:35 and 38:50]
  • what the workshop agreed on [43:18]
  • what might happen after the workshop: building links between researchers and practitioners [45:34]
  • responses to critiques of empowered mini-publics [49:35]
  • when the book arising from the workshop will be published [53:07]