Why I glittered Sir Keir Starmer

A few months ago I hopped across some chairs during a standing ovation, appeared on stage and sprinkled glitter over a man who many believe will be the next leader of the UK. 

The outrage was plentiful, the delight a bit of a surprise. I’m disappointed my actions frightened some, but glad the shimmer at least looked good on Sir Kier Starmer. I wore the words ‘People Demand Democracy’ on my t-shirt that day because true democracy is about people being heard and having a fair say. 

This article has been published through the Ecologist Writers’ Fund. We ask readers for donations to pay some authors £200 for their work. Please make a donation now. You can learn more about the fund, and make an application, on our website

The right to vote in this country was hard-earned – thanks to interventions by the Chartists and the Suffragettes – and important to preserve. Yet, one hundred years later our votes count for very little. Inner forces have shut the public out from the Houses of Parliament and I believe citizens’ assemblies are the key to unlock democracy and solve the problems in society.

Flawed

Some said I acted in the name of ‘electoral reform’, but this forgets the gap between our society and a liveable future. I was not requesting an amendment, I was calling for revolutionary change, just a moment before our political system committed us to a final step off the edge of a climate cliff. 

Because it has become clear that our Earth is at a tipping point. We are in crisis. Global temperature anomalies have spiked far beyond expectation this year. Paleoclimate analysis uncovers greater sensitivity in climate warming and ocean circulation than previously thought.

Two thirds of the biophysical systems that regulate our planet have crossed beyond their operating capacity and we have destabilised the Earth system for millennia to come. Time and time again the science sends the message: “it’s worse than we thought” yet still, our leadership bickers over the basics. 

So here is the truth: our civilisation is built on a promise that will be found to be fatally flawed in only a moment’s time. It is a promise of endless growth, of infinitely expanding technology, of peace and stability predicated on assumptions completely ungrounded in physics.

We are exposing billions of people to extreme famine and rapid sea-level rise. There will be no future free from conflict and strife. Debt systems will collapse as countries default. People on the order of one billion will be forced to migrate. Democracies, already feeble and fickle as they are, will bulk under the weight of newfound stress and scarcity. 

Assemblies

Even today, our society is crumbling around us, a flailing political system laid bare in all aspects of our lives. It has failed to preserve our future, it has failed to offer prosperity in our present. It has failed to manage our public services and meet our basic needs. It has failed on Covid, it has failed on Brexit. It fails to recognise the crimes in Gaza and call for an end to the untold killing of innocent people. 

This is not a single party, but the whole political establishment. Both sides have been captured by big business and career politicians who have forgotten the people they serve. 

On one side of the house sits an unelected ruler richer than the king, and on the other a lawyer who stands for nothing – not least international law. 

Both would prefer no one ever hears the words of a protester again, for fear that the public would learn of another world emerging, an entirely different vision for our system outside of political party control. True democracy is citizen-led.

For another world will emerge. People across the country are coming together and calling for change: fairer working conditions, a more equal society, a bearable present, a liveable future. 

The next six months will see one hundred assemblies arranged across the country – autonomous, grassroots and collaborative exercises in self-built politics; empowering communities to self-organise; no more waiting on empty words from the next season of parliamentary ineptitude. 

Instead we want to see people’s assemblies in churches and town halls in every corner of the UK, collaborating on issues of climate, the cost of living and what we all want to do about it. Many of these will aggregate to a national Popular Assembly with national demands that civil resistance can get behind.

Democracy

Away from centres of power, alternative institutions will be built: citizens’ assemblies on climate, costs and our future democracy. As the public, we will develop our own mandate. If a constitution must be written, we will write it with renowned wordsmiths and collaborate with famous artists to create a cultural wave to carry this vision.

As the election approaches, nonviolent direct action will enter the political arena. Debates, hustings, speeches to be recognised as the shallow glittery spectacles that they are. Farcical political ceremonies with no legitimacy in the face of an emergency, in dire need of interruption by members of the public demanding the right to participate in the decisions which determine whether we have a future or not. Politics needs an update.

Because it is only through democracy that we can preserve humanity. True democracy, more than what we’re offered by our current political system of collapsing living conditions, crumbling infrastructure, broken care, faithless politicians and a future on fire.

You see, we don’t have to settle for this. We can change the way decisions are made, we can improve and upgrade our democracy with a solution on the scale of the problem: an entire chamber of government; a People’s House – or House of Citizens – consisting of hundreds of ordinary people, paid for their time, empowered with science, tasked to keep politicians honest and deliver on policies through citizens’ assemblies on issues of national importance.

This is a model of democracy that would represent the original meaning of the word: democratic lottery to provide political access to anyone in the country. Allowing people from all backgrounds – age, class, gender, ethnicity and disability – a chance to meet their peers, receive the evidence and find consensus in our common interest.

Fight

It’s what we do with our juries, after all. We trust representative groups of the public to come together, carefully consider the evidence and reach conclusions which have huge impacts on people’s lives. So why not do this in our politics? 

Why not include those who are actually affected by the choices made in Westminster, whose only objective is to take the responsibility seriously and reach solutions? Why should we settle for the point-scoring, name-calling, personal ambition, lies, misconduct and elite capture at the centre of power instead?

We must stop politicians from getting away with terrible behaviour and scandal, from holding parties during lockdown before being rewarded with a seat in the House of Lords to rule forever. It’s not Lords we need, but citizens – a House of Citizens to keep our elected rulers in check and unearth the public’s true agenda.

So, if you’re waiting on the next iteration of our same political system to provide the light, don’t. Be the spark yourself. Participate in the assemblies happening with Humanity Project or get organised with Extinction Rebellion. Find your part to play in the fight for change.

And the next time you see a politician on a podium before you, empty promises imminent on their lips, imagine if instead they said: True democracy is citizen-led. Politics needs an update. We demand a People’s House.

This Author 

Yaz Ashmawi is a member of the XR strategy team. This article has been published through the Ecologist Writers’ Fund. We ask readers for donations to pay some authors £200 for their work. Please make a donation now. You can learn more about the fund, and make an application, on our website.

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