The People’s Assembly Network (PAN) event held in London at the weekend took place against a dramatic background of mass actions against existing authorities from Wisconsin, USA, to Tahrir Square in Cairo.
In Cairo two demonstrators were killed by the military police and many more injured, while in Madison, Wisconsin, trade unionists and their supporters met in a people’s assembly. On a smaller scale, protesters camped out overnight in Trafalgar Square demanding the right to peaceful protest.
As a powerful greeting to the London meeting from the Wisconsin Wave People’s Assembly said clearly: “Like all of you, we understand the just cause and moral imperative of defending our democratic traditions, our people, and our principles against a coordinated attack by corporate elites and the politicians they own. And, like all of you, we know that we have to do much more than fight back. We also have to advance a genuine people’s movement that values every human being and insists on essential public services and human rights.”
This year, the message noted, opened with the toppling of dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, which inspired the mass resistance in Wisconsin to the attacks on public sector workers and their union rights.
PAN co-convenor Mark Barrett, said that assemblies were “not unions, not parties or pressure groups but an inclusive organisational strategy - the means to build permanent, democratic, city-wide and rural structures in various communities around the world, which can have a multiplicity of functions. They can unite for a common alternative around the world – permanent institutions of the ‘common’.”
A researcher on social movements said it was important to see assemblies not only as “reacting” to the existing authorities but as a way to the assertion of a new form of power.
Others, including members of the Project for a Participatory Society UK, saw Assemblies as platforms for encouraging social participation and as a way of developing alternatives to the capitalist system of production.
A World to Win member said that the role of assemblies was to express the self-determination of people, to be a voice for the voiceless and to develop mass forms of leadership. “They are not a left thing or a right thing, but a democratic thing in the light of mass popular dissatisfaction with state structures and the absence of a democratic voice.”
London activist, Navid, said that assemblies could be structures for combining the ideologies of the left and forums for debating ideas about social transformation.
Tony Dines from Worthing Solidarity Network and Transition Town Worthing suggested that assemblies could draw in all people who are victims of the crisis of capitalism, including workers and small businessmen. They could be parallel organisations to local government up to a national level which aimed to replace the existing state institutions. The aim should be common ownership, not state ownership, he stressed.
The meeting was encouraged by a message from the Glasgow People’s Assembly which has already held three meetings at the Free Hetherington building which has been occupied by students since the beginning of 2011. A People’s Assembly/Convention is scheduled to be held in Lambeth, south London on May 21.
PAN participants will reconvene on Saturday May 7 at the Passing Clouds music and arts centre in east London. Meanwhile the website working group will contribute articles, blogs, news, photos and comments to the website and a new group was formed to develop connections internationally.
With the Coalition government in increasing disarray and the Parliamentary system offering no way forward, PAN’s boost for the campaign of building people’s assemblies is timely.
A World to Win secretary