Demsoc works across Europe, and very often also outside capitals and government buildings. One of the most striking projects in recent years was Le Agorà di Messina, which ran over the course of a year in Sicily and was entirely designed and executed by the citizens taking part, supported by Demsoc. Francesca Attolino and Ivan Tornesi of Demsoc worked intensively alongside that group, and brought the world to Messina to expand the possibilities.
Le Agorà di Messina aimed to encourage citizen participation in decision-making across Messina, with its final goal to set a protocol for participation. The project was named ‘agora’, meaning gathering place in ancient Greek, used by citizens for public meetings and decision making.
The three main aims of the project were to:
- Support and enhance existing ground-up networks and actions in a systematic way.
- Increase opportunities for citizens to be involved in dialogue, deliberation and decision-making.
- Create something that is long-term, conversational, and not driven by a single event or decision point, so that the networks and structures we create are around for longer than the period of the process.
Le Agorà di Messina concept originated from an event that The Democratic Society organised in Messina in October 2017 for the Incubator for Participatory Democracy, run by the Council of Europe. On that occasion, Messina citizens stated very clearly what their vision of participation and democratic practices in the city would be. Their priorities were to avoid one-shot participation exercises, to go beyond elected mandates and to empower citizens, find places for citizens to meet and discuss citizen ideas and develop participative skills. Above all, the citizens asked for instruments to develop citizens’ autonomy ( which is a reference to art. 118 of Italian Constitution), and for institutions should look at emotions, not only rationality.
In our view, this project succeeded in doing that, demonstrating the ability of a group of citizens to proactively advocate and work for democracy, transparency and accountability. This also happened under particularly difficult circumstances of political changes in the local council, and economic challenges in the region.
Undeterred by setbacks, the Steering Group of citizens decided to focus on very specific issues of urban regeneration of public spaces in their city. They developed a proposal “Gesti Lenti e Pieni d’Amore” aimed at re-establishing the citrus processing craft, in a form would have women from disadvantaged groups trained and supported towards financial independence. The support of Agorà di Messina and the skills provided to look for external funding, made this a clear case where could citizens take action in their city in a participative way, independent of the city council. This meant to provide the city with ”a beautiful memory, and a sustainable future”.
By the time the final Festival Messina Partecipa was organised, 76 committed citizens were holding Le Agorà di Messina, across a very diverse spectrum of people. Throughout one intense summer day in a Sicilian Palazzo, they developed the ‘Messina Charter for Participation’, setting out the conditions under which the citizens of Messina wish to organise their participative decision making from then on.
Today, the group of citizens we worked with remains active and connected, and Messina a distinctly meaningful place on the Demsoc map.