Rebooting XR, Rebooting Democracy

A plan for scaling up community-led democracy using the XR UK Local Groups network

Will Franks
9 min readJan 21, 2020


It’s no secret that XR is in a dip. Low public support, internal discomfort with centralisation and London-centricity, glaring systematic oppressions, local group meetings drying up… there’s despondency and disillusionment. This is to say nothing of the devastating result of the general election for action on the climate and ecological emergency.

We all know that the climate and ecological crisis is, in part, a crisis of democracy. That’s why we are using civil disobedience to campaign for top-down democratic change, i.e. a state-level citizens assembly. But even if this is successful, it isn’t going to be enough. We have to complement this with a bottom-up effort to build grassroots, community-level, participatory democracy.

This movement needs something to unite behind. Something that brings us together, appeals to the wider public, and empowers us and our local communities. It’s vital that we are proactively building the system we want to see in addition to rising up against the existing broken one. We believe we are sitting on an answer — Participatory Democracy. People’s Assemblies and other democratic sessions as a method for building real and inclusive democracy, healing and reviving our communities, and for reclaiming political power at the local level.

Crucially: strong, caring communities and functional, inclusive, local-level democracy are both going to be essential for navigating the challenges of unfolding system collapse. And they go hand-in-hand — a symbiosis that actively regenerates the social and political fabric.

Everything is in place for us to start a community-led democracy movement in a big way. We just have to go for it.

At present, it isn’t common knowledge we are calling for a radical change in democracy, despite our third demand being a call for a national Citizens’ Assembly. We give lip service to being a pro-democracy movement, and it’s true that we do hold a lot of great assemblies. But we could do so much more.

How many of us actually regularly participate in democratic sessions, with the same group of people?

For those of us who are active, how many of us have been emotionally and politically empowered by that experience?

How many of us feel like people’s assemblies are actually “going somewhere” — that our voice and perspective will truly filter up to national working groups, maintaining XR’s promise of a collective democratic movement?

How many of us see these assemblies as an incredible opportunity to transform local politics?

Why should communities have to wait for a national citizens’ assembly before they start making real changes to their area? We can use people’s assemblies to crowdsource plans for local community, decarbonisation and regeneration projects and then simply get started on them, without having to wait for state-level decisions to trickle down.

A Citizens’ Assembly on decarbonising the UK isn’t going to revive community and democracy in a way that prepares our society for ecological collapse. We have to take this into our own hands, and start getting organised. We are in a position to do this by supporting our national network of local groups to roll out community-led participatory democracy. We can begin by using assemblies to help our communities address their local, everyday issues and concerns, and begin organising projects and campaigns to address them. From there, we can start figuring out the local effects of the climate crisis and what we can do to adapt and prepare.

This is how we can come together with the wider public and unite with them under common goals: fixing our broken democracy, getting organised for climate and ecological breakdown, and healing our fragmented society.

(Please note that many local groups and community organisations are already doing this amazing work and have been for a long time; this is an attempt to draw their efforts together into an accessible national plan that XR UK can get behind. If you feel your LG is already doing this work, please get in touch so we can promote and share your stories and experiences).

Within XR, we strive for decentralisation, but that doesn’t really work unless you actually “give the centralised power back” to people the local level. Participatory assemblies can do that by empowering everybody present with an input into the national XR conversation.

Let’s take the people’s assembly as the hallmark participatory democracy session. How might we use them to energise this movement and our wider communities?

Mobilisation Assemblies

Local groups can start holding big and accessible people’s assemblies. A Mobilisation Assemblies’ focus should be on increasing attendance, recruiting volunteers and arrestables for the next rebellion, and to inform the national action strategy with local-level perspectives.

We need to be asking: why aren’t there 500 people in this local group? Why aren’t our parents, workmates and friends in here? How can we get them in here? What is the national mass mobilisation strategy and what do we want to do, as individuals and a local group, to help? What do we think we should be doing by April?

A second assembly might invite the not-quite-onboard-with-XR people into the room, where we can ask, without judgement: what’s preventing you from attending actions and rebellion activities? From getting arrested? What are your doubts about civil disobedience? About XR?

We have to invite feedback and criticism from people who aren’t onboard, so we can listen to them, understand their perspectives and answer their questions. With this knowledge we will adapt our communications and strategy so they are excited to get on board for the next rebellion. What’s more, just by attending these assemblies, they will hear our deep personal concerns about the climate crisis and why we believe civil disobedience is now an essential action.

We’re all trying to do this anyway, at home and in our workplaces, but these are difficult conversations. A well-facilitated assembly with a culture of respect, honesty, and vulnerability makes these conversations smoother, more rewarding and productive. And even if we don’t get people onboard, we will learn a lot, find common understanding, and experience real participatory democracy. Win win!

People’s assemblies are our very best forum for listening to our wider communities on what we need to do to include, empower and mobilise them!

Community Assemblies

This is when we take our efforts to build participatory democracy beyond XR. Civil disobedience is polarising, and always will be, but radically inclusive democracy is for everyone.

Community assemblies begin by inviting local people to share their everyday local concerns, what they’d like to see change in their area, and how they might come together to make those changes. There is no XR or even climate emergency agenda. It’s an act of service: empowering disempowered people with a voice, political platform and caring community.

We can use participatory democracy to empower, mobilise and bring together the majority of the population who are concerned about the climate emergency but are not (and probably never will) be on board with XR’s civil disobedience tactics.

We build community and participatory democracy first, and climate resilience emerges naturally from there.

The majority of the UK feel frustrated and powerless. Just like direct action, getting involved in local democracy can heal both political disempowerment and despair at not being able to act on climate breakdown. With participatory democracy, we can support our communities in their everyday struggles, help them self-organise for climate breakdown, and politically mobilise them.

We have to have solidarity with people who don’t support XR, because we’re all in this together. We can act on that by supporting local democracy initiatives, and where needed, providing the service of well-facilitated community assemblies and facilitation trainings (so communities can run their own assemblies).

In any case, by proactively supporting inclusive democracy, people will sympathise with XR. They will see that we are normal people who care about everyone and do not seek to judge, blame or shame. This will benefit our public image and may well lead people naturally to join our direct action campaigns.

We have the chance to engage marginalised groups through democratic assemblies, take their perspectives on board, and support community building across cultural divides.

This is a radical act. Done right, it’s active solidarity with the oppressed people of this country. We should do all we can to share the gift of participatory democracy.

Climate Emergency Assemblies

These should only take place after a number of community assemblies have happened. This area is sensitive and people need support. But this is where we need to go: assemblies that start like this: “today we’re going to talk about: what are we going to do when the ATM machines run out of money? What do we do when food prices triple overnight? When the local hospital runs out of medical supplies?”. Newcomers, or people from outside XR, will not be expecting this apocalyptic material — and it can be terrifying. But it’s essential that everyone, even those who don’t agree with our civil disobedience tactics, are empowered with participatory democracy in a way that allows them to self-organise their communities to prepare for climate and ecological breakdown.

Local experts might be invited to share their ideas for climate emergency plans. Communities can begin to organise their own transition and regeneration projects. And at this point, they can turn towards obtaining resources from the state…

Reclaiming Local Politics / Municipalism

This is where community democracy really gets going. We (the people of the UK) can reclaim political power in a very real way by running as independent councillors in local, district and city council elections.

This is vital work: it’s how we bring democratically crowdsourced, radical — yet reasonable and rational — climate and ecological policies into local politics. Policies that put people, ecosystems and communities first and lead to very real changes at the local level.

So how do we do it? We can use democratic sessions, like people’s assemblies, to crowdsource policies and proposals for the local council. Then, a group of regular people run in elections as independent councillors. And win! From there, communities can direct money and resources to the transition/sustainability/regeneration projects that they want to see. This is how self-organising communities can gain access to state resources for emergency transition projects.

It is not hard to do this. Voter turnout for council elections is really low and groups who run as independent councillors representing their communities have taken elections by storm. It’s happened in Frome and in Torridge. These good people have written books about how to do it, so we’ll simply follow their model (it’s called Flatpack Democracy). AND they’ve said it’s bloody easy (to win back your local council), even with a short 6-month local campaign, AND they’re on hand to give trainings and support — starting in January!

The London Borough of Newham provides a beautiful example of what a good campaign can achieve.

There’s so much potential here — an open door waiting to be pushed. If we get organised we can reclaim hundreds of councils in the coming years. Ambitious, yes, but it’s a bloody emergency! Stranger things have happened.

It is important to note that many councils already have independent councillors who are desperate for well-facilitated assemblies as a means to listen to their constituency; this is a way XR local groups can offer them a valuable and in-demand service.

Council campaigns mean that local assemblies evolve into much more than dead-end discussions. When people know their thoughts and ideas will be represented by their independent councillor, they are politically engaged and empowered. This gives sessions a “forward momentum” — people know their discussions are going somewhere; it gives people buy-in into local and national politics.

So — let’s do this! Take back your hometown!

Important May 2020 elections: 118 local council, 8 mayoral, 40 police&crime comissioner elections

Lots more in the “Reclaiming Local Politics” section of the Local Democracy Working Groups guide.

And here’s an inspiring and informative article on municipalism as a movement.

It’s important to note that we are not planning to do this “as XR” — rather, simply to use the XR UK network as a launchpad, a way of disseminating knowledge, trainings and assemblies, which will allow rebels to start organising alongside (and within) their communities to take back their local councils. As the people, for the people!

Council Direct Action

Once elected, independent councillors awake to the climate emergency can start engaging in direct action — getting arrested and going to prison — making demands to central government. These might be XR’s 3 demands or calls for support of local-level transition initiatives (e.g. increase Council Climate Emergency budgets!). This direct action would garner significant press and media attention and shift public focus towards local politics.

It would bring high-level nonviolent political conflict into the governmental system itself. We know that civil disobedience catalyses radical change, so this is an important area to explore going forward! At this point may see the rise of rebel mayors, rebel councils and rebel cities. Soon to be prototyped in Frome — stay tuned.

If you have comments, ideas, or feedback on this plan, please comment below!

Some Links and Resources:

Join the Future Democracy Facilitator Network (for trainings and workshops)

Future Democracy Hub website

Local democracy working groups guide

#politics #extinctionrebellion #environment #climatechange #community



Will Franks

freedom artist. magical realist. metamodern beat.