Hastings Assembles - Local residents decide together on communal issues - Extinction Rebellion UK

Hastings Assembles – Local residents decide together on communal issues

When screens only echo our divisions, to find common ground – in person – is a rebellious act. Volunteers in Hastings were sick of listening to politicians’ spiel about what a great candidate they’d be, without feeling the politicians were listening back. While ordinary people fought over ideas on social media, debate often turned toxic and made no real-life impact. They missed a sense of community and shared interests that might actually help solve local problems.

Extinction Rebellion groups around the UK have been running ‘community assemblies’ for more than a year now, to give ordinary people a voice and way to work together to find solutions to local issues. 

One such assembly was the one in Hastings which was set up by ordinary people in the run up to the election. 119 Hastings residents got together to deliberate on their priorities for the upcoming election and for their town’s future. 

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The people who pooled together to organise the community assembly (including members of XR Hastings) called it Hastings Assembles, and the first assembly took place on 16 June 2024. They wanted to “bring together as much of Hastings as we can, in 2 weeks, …to talk to each other: to listen, and to start framing a decisive manifesto of what Hastings… the people actually want and need, and how we might go about getting those things.”

They decided that they would have a few rules:

  • Election candidates could attend the assembly, but they could not do any canvassing or leaflet distribution (there would be a table outside where people could leave campaign materials for viewing). 
  • No idea or topic would be vetoed, but no abusive language, no personal attacks. 
  • The aim would be to look for agreement and understanding rather than stressing over disagreements. 
  • No ‘me me me’ speeches with people trying to convince the assembly they are right or  what the assembly should or should not talk about.
  • Yes to a variety of people coming together to talk, to listen and to think.

Local resident Kay Green was one of the organisers and wrote a blog about the experience of organising and attending the assembly, you can read her blog about it: ‘Chairs are the best social media’.

The organisers were thrilled that the event was oversubscribed with 119 attendees. The assembly was split into smaller groups of six people, each group with paper and pens, and the whole event lasted for two hours.

Kay remarks in her blog that “I was reminded that a town really is just a bunch of people with remarkably similar needs and concerns”, that by sitting down with people you wouldn’t normally be talking to, you discover how much you have in common and learn from each other. 

Local reporter ​​Merlin Betts from the Hastings Independent attended the assembly, and noted that the groups talked about a variety of issues, but focused on two main themes: How do we improve people’s lives? And how do we make those improvements happen? Betts wrote that “topics covered included government accountability, sewage dumping, access to clean water and housing. The solutions that came up most often were around community activism; like assemblies, localised lobbying and more self-organisation”.

It’s still early days but the first assembly gained a lot of enthusiasm. Hastings Assembles has begun plans to hold meetings in different parts of the town to give voices to more communities. They’re also hoping to dig deeper on local views on specific topics.

Local XR groups all over the UK are organising these kinds of community assemblies. If you’re thinking about hosting a community assembly in your area, contact communityassemblies@extinctionrebellion.uk   

Read more about previous community assemblies organised by local XR groups | Find out more about XR’s Community Assemblies Escalation Plan.

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