Experiencing a citizens' assembly: building the People's Plan for Nature - Extinction Rebellion UK
Rebecca Lester; talk; Peoples Plan for Nature; The Big One; April 2023; Citizens Assemblies Hub; Extinction Rebellion

Experiencing a citizens’ assembly: building the People’s Plan for Nature

Guest author: Rebecca Lester

Rebecca came to speak at The Big One about her experience being a member of the citizens’ assembly for the People’s Plan for Nature. It was an initiative from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the National Trust, and the WWF. The citizens’ assembly informed this comprehensive plan which sets out actions that are needed to secure the future of nature in the UK. As well as the recommendations from the citizens’ assembly, the Plan incorporated ideas and stories from the public on what nature means to them and how we can save it. Nearly 30,000 responses were submitted in four weeks. The citizens’ assembly itself, which took place after the public submissions were received, consisted of 103 members and took place over four weekends. Here Rebecca shares with us her personal experience of what is was like to be part of a citizens’ assembly.

“Prior to taking part in the citizens’ assembly for the People’s Plan for Nature, there were three things I didn’t know.

  1. What a citizens assembly was.
  2. How much of a positive impact it would have on my life.
  3. How humans, when politics and personal agendas are removed, can come together, listen to each other, and ultimately agree on important topics.

As a brief overview, the assembly was made up of 100 people from across the UK, from different walks of life, with some members as young as 16! Each weekend was fantastically run by Involve, a public participation charity, and backed by the National Trust, the RSPB, and WWF. You can read the whole report for the People’s Plan for Nature and the calls to action and add your name and opinion, too.

Since the start of this incredible journey back in November 2022, I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked how I felt when I received the letter inviting me to take part in the citizens’ assembly. Honestly, I don’t remember any particular overwhelming feelings. I remember sifting through the usual pile of junk mail (no Hilary, no matter how many thousands of leaflets you put through my door, I will not be purchasing a blind!) and deciding this deserved further attention and wasn’t to be recycled. I have always loved being outdoors, in and around nature, so once I’d read the letter, although not entirely convinced it wasn’t a scam (mostly down to the renumeration), I completed the questionnaire very much with a ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ attitude.  Now, out the other end, I can confirm it was not a scam, and maybe more importantly, I know what a citizens’ assembly is.

In the weeks running up to the first weekend, the amount of elaborate lies I concocted in my head as to why I couldn’t attend, was ridiculous. The assembly was going to take place in Birmingham. Getting to Birmingham, mentally, was incredibly hard. My mental health has been a struggle for a few years now, and socialising, even with friends, is something I avoid. Yet, something made me push through and turn up. I am so glad I did.

Sat in a room with 100 plus strangers, I felt strangely at ease. Something that may not have happened as quickly without the amazing facilitators from Involve. The range of guest speakers we heard from was vast and it wasn’t all scary facts and figures. Of course, everyone had a topic/speaker they preferred or were more passionate about. Regardless, the facilitators always ensured that everyone had their turn to speak, encouraged those who hadn’t, all without imposing their views and without pressure. I felt safe and able to express my (somewhat overly animated) self. Even when there was a difference in opinion, they encouraged a bit of (polite) back and forth until an agreement or compromise was reached. Personally, I love to have my opinion challenged; it’s the best way to learn and grow.

I could waffle on about the Plan and process forever, but I don’t want to lose you before I have made my main point. I am such an advocate for the Plan, the process, and the protection of our incredible nature. Nature is beautiful, fascinating, and, for now at least, always there when you need it. I knew our biodiversity was declining, but not to the extent that it is. The UK is in the bottom 10% of countries globally for protecting nature. This is not OK. This is now too urgent to leave to chance.

Nature always provides. She provides us with, food and water, raw materials, medicine, the air we breathe, and she even provides in ways you would not expect. For instance, in the form of a citizens’ assembly established to create a plan to protect and restore her. Now, we must return the favour. We must be her voice, a voice I believe should come from a permanent citizens’ assembly to hold everyone to account. The creation of a permanent citizens’ assembly was included in our final 28 calls to action we came up with for the People’s Plan for Nature.

A sign of a good leader, in my opinion, is knowing when they are not up to the task. Governments have greenwashed and created ‘clever’ slogans (30 by 30? What?) that we don’t need. It’s time they pass the responsibility to the people to take the action that is needed. The People’s Plan for Nature does exactly this. Furthermore, the Plan provides evidence that we, the people, can tackle this crisis.

Rebecca speaking at The Big One in front of the Houses of Parliament at the Citizens’ Assemblies Hub, April 2023.

Beyond creating the People’s Plan for Nature itself, it has opened up numerous opportunities for me, one of which was speaking at ‘The Big One’, something I could never have imagined doing. Feeling a part of something bigger, something that mattered, has helped me rediscover a part of myself that I had lost. I will always be grateful. Together, humans are capable of amazing things, and when personal agendas and politics are removed, we can create truly amazing things.”

Find out more about citizens’ assemblies from the Citizens’ Assembly Working Group at XR UK.

Read up on the citizens’ assembly that took place as part of the creation of the People’s Plan for Nature.

Watch the participants of the citizens’ assembly for the People’s Plan for Nature explain what it was all about.

To attend the Citizens’ Assembly Working Group’s upcoming talks check out XR’s events page.

Related topics

citizens' assembly decide together deliberative democracy People's Plan for Nature Third Demand

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