Workshops Notes

 European Social Consulta: spaces for debate


author: jense

Workshop. European Social Consulta: Creating Social Spaces for Debate.

The ESC is an initiative aiming at creating social debate and reflection in European society in a horizontal and participatory way. The idea is to facilitate spaces where people can encounter each other and talk about local (and global) problems and find solutions to them through direct democracy. It does so with a set of hallmarks similar to those of the PGA, yet differs from the PGA in that it offers open space for discussion where it is possible for non-politicised people to participate and contribute to debates on issues that concern their lives. As some people in the workshop put it: The Consulta can create forums where we could comfortably invite our grandmothers and other family to participate, while the PGA which is more action focused could not do so.

The ESC name is derived from the Zapatista mock referendum in 1997 and reflects the experiences of direct democracy such as what has been recently been practised in Argentina this year. It is a politicising experience as it gives people the power to take back democracy outside the representative democracy which governments use to legitimise continued repression in diverse forms. It will be a place where people can come and join if not happy with the more vertical structures offered within other political groupings.

The Consulta is still in process of 'formulating' itself and therefore there is an internal consultation within the current networks to be able to 'structure' the Consulta itself, done on a consensus basis. The set of hallmarks frame the idea of the Consulta and acts as a guide to the internal consultation.

The Consulta will be facilitated through Promoter groups who do outreach in different localities by meeting with other groups, organisations and collectives in different areas, talking about it and then source responses to the questions in the guide about how to design the consulta itself. The Consulta is at the stage of getting the idea out, receiving answers from groups and looking for promoter groups.

Local groups identify projects, which may be of their interest. The emphasis is upon participatory reflection upon the problems, and upon the alternatives we can and do use to transform society
In the session groups from Barcelona, Lisbon, Stockholm, Berlin, Madrid, Tübingen and Oslo gave examples their experiences of being part of the Consulta.

To help groups engaging in the Consulta process, summaries of examples and initiatives from existing promoter groups as well as other experiences of direct democracy will be collected which can be used as possible campaigns by such groups.

Three discussion points emerged in the session.

  1. Keeping it open - but how to protect the hallmarks from people who may want to take it over.
    It was acknowledged that trying to keep the Consulta as open as possible could also be a weakness in that it could be taken over by 'other' interested in undermining the process in order to promote its own aims. Yet on the other hand keeping it narrow would exclude the many people needed to make it successful if it is to transform society. It is difficult to have a space and let 'new' people and therefore it must be possible for participants to co-create the space of debate. This space will emerge out the locality and the situations they are confronted with.
  2. The Dichotomy between Debate and Action.
    An important discussion covered how to deal with the dichotomy between debate and action relating to other direct democracy experiences. When is it necessary to act and when is it necessary to debate? Which comes first and should they be separate or not. It was realised that 'other' experiences may not be suitable for the European reality and this point needs more discussion to be taken further in other sessions. (Or over the Consulta email list)
  3. 3. How to applicate the consulta in different social realities i.e. Eastern/Northern Europe
    There was not enough time to cover the final discussion point which considered the problem that applicating the Consulta in different social realities would vary differently especially in Eastern Europe and as well as in Northern Europe where there is fear the idea could be taken over by political parties.

Tuesday at 19.00 in "Las Vegas" will be an "extra workshop" to continue the discusion

The Future

There will be a meeting in Barcelona in October 18th to the 20th. Then in February 2003 there will be the first Gathering with different groups to talk together and try to reach agreement on the consulta itself, based on the input from the internal consulta.

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