Our second Democracy Day as part of the Imagine Belfast Festival was attended by over 300 engaged enthusiastic people, committed to one thing; looking at ways of deepening and improving democracy in Northern Ireland!
Building Change Trust and partner organisations ran and participated in talks, workshops and interactive discussions on March 14th at the Crescent Arts Centre, where spirits were not dampened by the rain outside.
We’ve created this video which captures the essence of Democracy Day. The passion and commitment of those who attended, participated and spoke was palpable. While every event throughout the day received positive feedback, it’s worth calling out three of them which struck our audiences as particularly relevant or inspirational.
‘Putting people at the heart of decision making’, explored the concept of giving Northern Irish citizens a direct say on important regional issues, through the creation of a Citizens’ Assembly. The interactive workshop walked through how this democratic innovation which has been successfully used in other places (in particular the Republic of Ireland) might work, which topics it might consider and the impact it could have. The Trust have already made a grant available to Involve towards delivery of a Citizens’ Assembly initiative this year (more information here)
Attendee feedback and discussion saw a Citizens Assembly as a potentially very effective way to deepen democracy in Northern Ireland.
‘The Good Friday agreement: Is it still fit for purpose?’ looked at whether the agreement is still relevant for citizens of Northern Ireland twenty years after it was implemented, through a series of lightning talks from local academics and activists followed by group feedback from the audience.
The fact that there was standing room only at the event bears testament to the strength of feeling on the subject. Comments and feedback from those who were there, strongly demonstrated an appetite for a reform of the agreement to bring it into line with the needs of a more evolved Northern Ireland society.
Interestingly participants also felt that any changes to the agreement should only be made with through direct engagement with the public, for example through a citizens’ assembly.
The Grand finale of Democracy Day was our keynote speaker, Carmen Perez, the National Co-Chair of the Women’s March on Washington, which drew over 5 million people across the globe in 2017. Carmen, who last year was named one of Fortune’s Top 50 World Leaders and featured on TIME’s most influential people list was described by audience members as ‘inspiring’ and ‘fantastic’.
Carmen issued a rallying call for unity in the face of rising polarisation and xenophobia in the US and across the world, highlighting that “unity does not mean uniformity” and that activists must engage with those they don’t agree with in order to build broad-based movements for change.
This exploration of democracy innovations at local and international level has left us with plenty of food for thought, as the Trust seeks to secure the legacy of its work beyond its closure at the end of 2018.
The full democracy day programme plus all the presenters’ slides can be found in the resources section of our website here: http://www.buildingchangetrust.org/resources