Citizens’ Assemblies in Los Angeles Could Be The Art Of The Possible

Article by Susana F. Molina: “At the end of his career, the physician and playwright Wayne Liebman has painstakingly entered a strategic race to advocate for citizens’ assemblies – “throwing spaghetti to the wall, and waiting to see what sticks. If something sticks, it’s where I go” as he describes it. His frequent use of metaphors filled a spirited conversation over Zoom last week.

Liebman hadn’t been an activist to his core – the last time he was that active was during the anti-war movement – but the 2016 election left him with no other choice, he says. He retired from medicine and became a full-time activist. Nothing that he had anticipated. 

He began to get involved, in a partisan way, to help regain some political power, at least, in Congress. But, in the midst of the storming of the US capitol, “as I felt like I had thrown a ladder at the castle wall,” he continues, “what I realized is that I have thrown it to the wrong wall.” Liebman’s deep exposure to elections and politicians made him realize that he couldn’t trust the system anymore, “in fact it was the system that had gotten us to the point where we were at,” he says.

According to RepresentUs, America’s leading anti-corruption organization, only 4% of Americans currently have a great deal of confidence in Congress. Significantly, a growing number of democracy advocate organizations are sprouting out around the country to fix, what they call, a broken political system. “Unfortunately what they mean by that, is to try to fix how elections work,” says Liebman. “But this is like lipstick on a pig.” Australia has already instituted all kinds of reforms and still Australians are completely dissatisfied with how politicians run their country.

Liebman started to read about direct democracy, citizens’ assemblies and lottery selected panels. While in representative democracies like in the US people vote for representatives who execute policies and laws, direct democracy models allocate more power to people because they include citizens’ recommendations into the policy-making decision process.

“I quickly became a convert,” he admits. In 2020 Liebman founded the nonpartisan nonprofit organization Public Access Democracy in Los Angeles to educate the public about democratic lotteries and advocate for the implementation of citizens’ assemblies. Currently, one minute at the microphone at an open City Council Meeting depicts a bizarre moment in a bleak democracy landscape. Introducing citizens’ assemblies — where a randomly selected group of citizens hears expert evidence then deliberates — would boost participation on difficult issues and solutions that people have already embraced voluntarily and have built consensus…(More)”.