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Renovating democracy: combining conventions with festivals to assemble the public

Don't miss the new festival for democracy, DemFest, on 13-14 May.

Nick Mahony derek tatton
5 April 2016

Gladstone's Library, Llywelyn2000, Wikimedia Commons

Democratic and political changes could be fomented from a well-designed constitutional convention, but this would be more likely if such a convention was twinned with an exciting national programme of rolling public events and festivals oriented around the pluralisation of democracy and the democratization of everyday life.

We already live in a world where people are actively experimenting with many new ways of democratizing all different spheres of our everyday life, from workplaces, to technological platforms, the fields of arts and culture, the media, energy systems, food production and distribution, the economy and money, design, innovation and more. There are already many experts and organisations involved, as well as public groups and established campaigners.

These projects face many obstacles and difficulties, but the task is now to engage the wider public in these developments, as well as involve them in discussions about how more established democratic processes need to be reformed. To do this something rather more unconventional than a constitutional convention will be required.

It is for this reason that the Raymond Williams Foundation has teamed up with Gladstone’s Library and the Democratic Society to support the development of a new festival of democracy called DemFest, which will take place 13-14 May 2016, in the beautiful surroundings of Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, near Chester – (programme, speaker, ticketing and contact details all available on the DemFest.org website).

The aim of this new event is to encourage differently situated participants, with a shared interest in democratic change, to convene in a single site for a short period of intensive and convivial interaction, exchange and cooperation. We think the festival may provide an event template that could be of real value in the complicated social context in which we all now live.

DemFest is just one small and rather experimental event that’s taking place against this broader backdrop of emerging possibilities for democratization. This event is all about getting together to reflect on our current democracy and to consider new ways of renovating democracy that could help address some of the larger-scale and increasingly urgent problems that we now collectively face.

Raymond Williams is famous for calling for a ‘long revolution’ that has the aim of bringing about a more educated and participatory democracy. The contemporary starting point for such a revolution needs to be people’s everyday concerns and aspirations for a fairer, more open and egalitarian life and greater engagement with some of the myriad of initiatives and contemporary experiments that are already being worked on to democratise various spheres of our everyday life.

Festivals aren’t always progressive and the festival format doesn’t have a simple history, but at their best festivals can offer spaces where people can feel exhilarated by new ideas and experiences, with this opening out possibilities for imaginative and mutually supportive forms of collective action.

We welcome you to join us at DemFest and we will be pleased to receive comments and suggestions, anytime, on ideas you have for future DemFest events.

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Is this an opportunity for a realignment around a green democratic transformation?

Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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