Paul Sternberg, a Trustee of London Citizens, shares his thoughts about Wednesday’s Mayoral Accountability Assembly:
What an assembly! What a feast for the eyes! What an inspiration for the heart and, most crucially, what a challenge for those who think that power rests with the few and not for the many.
As over 2,500 ordinary people from different cultures, faith groups, generations, colours, professions and backgrounds joined together from across 250 civil society organisations at London’s Methodist Central Hall, they had one objective in mind: to hold the 2012 Mayoral candidates to account for the way they will, if elected, govern London for the next four years.
What were these mayoral candidates going to do to create safe havens for young people across the city? What were they going to do to train and create a brighter future for young people? What were they going to do to lift a fifth of working people in London out of the poverty trap of the basic wage to a meaningful ‘living wage”? What were they going to do to provide a solution to ever-rising rents, deteriorating conditions and the ‘social cleansing’ that is besetting London’s housing market?
These were the challenges presented to the four mayoral candidates – Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, Jenny Jones and Brian Paddick – and these were the issues that had come out of a year of conversations, meetings, gatherings and listening campaigns with thousands of individuals and civil society organisations across the capital – to identify and capture what matters most to ordinary people.
This was politics at its best, reviving the old political tradition of the ‘Assembly’. If Abraham Lincoln, Clem Atlee, William Wilberforce or Martin Luther King had dropped in they would have been immediately familiar with the real life drama of ‘politics in action’, of politics connecting with people’s lives, their day-to-day challenges, their hopes and aspirations. And in the midst of this great encounter between ordinary citizens and political power was an extraordinary atmosphere of festivity, of song and dance – a carnival-like celebration of the richness, the energy and diversity of our lives, our feelings, our emotions and our experiences as citizens of London, citizens of our inter-connected world.
This note was struck at the very beginning of this great Assembly. Before the candidates came on stage the scene was set by the ancient sound of the RamsHorn from the four corners of the Hall – the primordial sound of the call to action! This heightened sense of anticipation was more than just about politicians being held to account. This was about people having a voice, being heard and being listened to. The politics was almost a by-product of the Assembly. Instead it was the power of personal stories, of experiences and testimonies that stood out; the tears – and their were many – and laughter, the insights into how people felt in their daily lives, and the foresights into how we all wanted to live as active, equal and creative citizens.
When the Assembly ended with the rallying call of all 2,500 people repeating the mantra of ‘Together We Can’ this conveyed a powerful message to the Mayoral candidates what citizenship is all about. It is not about what you can get for yourself – a notion which has plagued our political culture for so long – but what we can all do for others. London Citizens of the World Unite! Together We can! What a wonderful evening. Thank you!