Permission Not Required: On Harmony’s Assemblies

1st December 2020
by John Urquhart, Party general secretary

This is the second part of a series on Harmony’s structures and processes. You can find the first part here, the third part here, and the fourth part here.

People collaborating over a table of work.

The word assembly conjures up certain imagery; these might be of school, of being sat in neat rows, listening to the head teacher droning on. My strongest memory of assembly was getting a big laugh – and a detention – for one day boredly holding my glasses case aloft, pointing it at aforementioned head teacher as if it were a TV remote control, and saying “Change the channel” with an indolent flick of thumb over an imaginary button.

Or it might put you in mind of a group meeting where decisions are taken, as with the Welsh Assembly, better known in Wales to the people I know as the Senedd.

Neither of these are really all that like Harmony’s assemblies.

The key difference is in the process, in the function.

In both cases, there is a person “in charge”. Our assemblies have a chair for meetings – the elected assembly secretaries – but the chair does not lead the meeting. They open it. They are there to calm things if they get heated. They decide, together with the group present, when an issue has become too hard to talk out, and should move to a vote.

Our assemblies are the heart of everything the Party does. There’s a specialist assembly for just about everything – and if there isn’t one, the Foundational Committee can create one. Assemblies can also create their own sub-assemblies to focus on specific issues or tasks.

These assemblies work in the same way as the Party as a whole. Each assembly is a “direct democracy”, working by “consensus”, with all choices made via a three-step approach.

The first step is just to talk it out. If that’s all that’s needed, if consensus is clear, then we don’t need the other two. But if the “talking it out” step just raises more questions, then we move onto the formal debate step. And again: if after that we have a clear decision, then great! We’re done.

But sometimes we won’t be able to end things that quickly or easily. And when that happens, we’ll vote. Only members can vote at this step, whereas all previous steps are open to anyone who is interested enough.

And this is how it works in every part of the Party – in every assembly, of every type.

But how we’re set up isn’t all that’s different about Harmony.

Membership of each assembly isn’t by appointment, or by vote. You don’t get onto the Resolutions Committee by being “voted into office”, although there are three important roles in that Committee that are elected positions. But they don’t speak for Party members or interested participants: and anyone can join in the discussion and debate steps in the decision-making process.

And again, we mean anyone. Including you, even if you’re not actually a member of Harmony. You can come take part in any discussion you so wish – any time you wish – or even just sit in and listen.

So our “assemblies” are not like assemblies at school or other political assemblies, because only certain people were allowed to speak at those, those people with permission to do so.

We don’t think you need permission. Your voice is yours. And in Harmony, nobody can – or will – take it away.