Address to the First meeting of the Council of Wisdoms of the Peoples of the Earth

by Frédéric Vandenberghe, 29/5/2021

Professor of Sociology and researcher at Instituto Universitário de Pesquisas do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His writings on a broad range of sociological topics have been published as books and articles around the world. He is a founding member of the International Convivialist Association.

picture: Tim Mossholder; Unsplash

Queridos Companheiros/Companheiras, Dear Brothers and Sisters/ Chers amis et collègue


This is the first meeting of the Council of the Wisdoms of the Peoples of the Earth. We are assembled here en petit comité, virtually united on our little screens, to see if we can join our forces and share our weaknesses to realise the great dream of a Planetary Citizens’ Parliament. Novalis, the German poet and visionary, thought that a dream that is shared is already half a reality. It is now up to us to give it more consistency. Nothing guarantees that we will succeed. We may well fail eventually. The success of this experiment in radical democracy depends on us – on our enthusiasm, but also on the thought we give to it, the energy we invest in it and the work we put in it.

Over the last year, we have transformed the principles and the values that are ensconced in the Conviviality Pact into a working methodology for co-operation, co-construction and articulation between the global networks of the Multiconvergence. The pact is a spiritual, moral and political “con-spiracy” for our times of suffocation– in the most literal sense, it is the Spirit that allows the elements of the collective to “breathe in” and “breathe out” together rhythmically and harmoniously.  The plenaries we have organized before were full of joy, affect and creativity. We have aspired to join the gentleness of the feminine touch with the contentious radicalism of pre-figurative and transformative social movements. In the process, some movements have disembarked; others have joined us. That is, as you know from experience, how collectives are made and how they function.

We are netweavers, not networkers. We have put our principles into action and developed a feminine methodology for weaving and stitching the various networks together in a vibrant Tapestry of eco-spiritual and socio-political Alternatives– to borrow an image from the GTA, which is here with us today, represented by Ashish and Vasna, as an observer-network. At the Multiconvergence, we know from experience that networks are made by people and that it is people who make the networks. That’s why your presence here in person is crucial. Whether we succeed or fail in our endeavour will depend to a large extent on you – on each of you and everybody.

The Planetary Citizens’ Parliament

The idea of complementing the organization of the United Nations with an organisation of the United Peoples is relatively new. Since the Second World War, various projects to set up a world citizen’s parliament have been proposed, but as far as I know, so far, none has really succeeded. Given the urgency to solve the world’s problems and avoid the extinction of the human species and other living beings, the time is ripe to try again. Taking up an idea of the Convivialist International, represented here by Alain Caillé who put on paper an ambitious plan for Global Citizens’ Parliament with two chambers, we have adopted, but also reformulated and redimensioned the plan.

It still has two Chambers, a first chamber, which we call the Council of the Wisdoms of the Peoples of the Earth and a second chamber which we call the Assembly of Planetary Citizens. To avoid the hierarchies between the mind and the body, the masculine and the feminine, the aristocrats and the plebeians, we do not use the language of upper and lower chambers. While the Council is composed of people who are recognized for their wisdom, moral exemplarity or leadership of service, the second chamber will be made up of citizens who are drawn by lot –by random sampling, like in classical Greece and contemporary popular juries.  The idea is that the Council of Wisdoms becomes as it were the head of the Parliament that sets the agenda, while the Assembly of Planetary Citizens, which forms the heart of the Parliament, deliberates and decides. To be clear and to subvert once again the hierarchies, it is understood that the function of the Council is to be at the service of the Assembly.

We have maintained the bicameral design, but not its scope. We still see it as an experiment in radical democracy that joins elements of representative and participatory democracy in a single design. But instead of trying it out on the grand scale, we want to test its viability in a more modest experiment within and between the networks. 

The Withering of the Steering Group

Over the last months, the MRG Steering Group has met on a weekly basis to prepare the plenaries – this is the ninth encounter and it is truly a pivotal one. For the first time, the Council of Wisdoms is gathering. Some of the networks are already working together, others are joining just now. The delegates of the networks have presented themselves and have been introduced to each other. Now, they will have to start working together to co-construct the Planetary Citizens’ Parliament. Like the Marxist State, the MRG Steering Group has to wither away in the long run. Not immediately, though. We are here with you to serve you and we will continue to do so. Together, we will organise step by step the Planetary Citizens’ Parliament. But the Parliament will only come into existence if the Council of Wisdoms, represented by you, becomes active and pro-active and assumes its responsibilities. As delegates of the networks, you will not only represent the networks and speak in their name, but you will also have to mobilise them, especially when the time will come to organise the Assembly of Planetary Citizens.

To get going, we have envisioned 4 working groups. They will be responsible for thinking through and working out the details of the Parliament – What are the responsibilities of the Council? How will it be organized? What is the relation between the Council and the Assembly? How will the Assembly function? How will the networks select the members of the Assembly? What are the themes of concern on which the parliament will reflect, deliberate and decide? 

We propose to start with a first working group. Let’s call it the working group of Matters of urgent concern

 1) Matters of Urgent Concern

 The networks and social movements you represent have been involved in various collective actions. The networks bring the themes to the Parliament and the Council decides which themes they will be working on. As examples of urgent matters of concern that have to receive priority treatment, we can mention the breaking of patents and compulsory licences for the production of medicaments against Covid, the fight against poverty and for global justice, the eradication of tax avoidance by transnational corporations and the closure of fiscal havens, the recognition of the rights of nature, support to Indiginous populations whose livelihood is threatened, non-violent resistance against authoritarian regimes like India, Brazil or Turkey.

We need volunteers for the first working group. They will have to liaise with each other, define the priorities and organise the second meeting of the Council in July to which all the members of the Council will be invited. 

2) Constitution of the Parliament

 The Planetary Citizens’ Parliament needs a rulebook. It needs to define its rules of operation and lay down its statutes. It needs, for instance, to decide the respective functions of the two chambers, their composition, as well as the relations between them. It also needs to decide whether decisions will be taken by consensus or by majority or perhaps even a mix of the two. It also needs to anticipate possible conflicts and propose how they can be resolved peacefully.

We also need volunteers for the second group. They will have to meet, to talk and think together to propose a rulebook for the constitution of the Parliament. The idea is that they will be mainly responsible for the organisation of the third meeting of the Council in August.

3) Assembling the Assembly

The networks have been asked to select 20 people from the grassroots to represent the Assembly of Planetary Citizens. The networks will have to work together to make that happen. It will take a lot of work, thought, affect and organisation to bring all those people together and resolve among other issues the question of language and communication.

We also need volunteers for this third working group. Like the other groups, they will have to meet in between the meetings of the Council and organise the fourth meeting of the Council which is tentatively scheduled for September

4) Legitimacy and Representativity of the Parliament

The Project of a Planetary Citizens’ Parliament is an experiment in real democracy. It is modest, because at first we want to test the viability of the project on a minor scale as an experiment within and between the global networks that are part of MRG. But it is also an ambitious project, because if it works within the networks, we can think about scaling it up and start thinking about the realisation of a real Planetary Citizens’ Parliament. This presupposes that we resolve our problem of legitimacy and representativity and investigate the statistical techniques for selection of the members of the Assembly by lot. 

This is the task of the fourth working group. They will have to organise the last meeting of the Council in October. 

And, finally, at the end of the year when all the work is done and each of the the working groups will have organized a meeting of the Council with the help of MRG’s steering group, we will have to organize a last meeting to evaluate the processes — to look back at what we have learned and to look forward to the organization of the Assembly of the Parliament. But this is probably for next year. This year we need to consolidate the Council and make it work organically and smoothly. What matters is the process. We are onto something important, but we’ll have to improvise and experiment. Like everything else, this is a collective learning experience. We need to be aware that our end is to give voice to the grassroots of civil society and to democratise global governance. The vocation of the Parliament is to become a World Moral Forum. Its deliberations and decisions could have a real impact on the global governance of the Planet. 

Imagine the Future

The project of the MRG is only one project among many others. Within our networks, the Convivialist International and the Grassroots to Global, which is part of the GTA, have their own projects. We need to map the other projects, study their proposals and their methodologies, enter into contact with them and invite them to join our project. We need not only to interarticulate similar projects, but also to strengthen the multiconvergence of global networks and social movements that share our vision of the world and subscribe to our project – in thought, in practice, in action.

We already have eight global processes working together to form an intentional collectivity that aims to bring about systemic change at the global level. This is a spiral of political, cultural and personal transformation. We are a prefigurative and transformative social movement. We represent the world in all its diversity and we want to change it. That’s why we are here. Right now the Parliament is only an elusive dream, but if all goes well, it may become a reality before the end of the decade. 

To finish, let us Imagine a September morning 2025 in New York where for the first time in history the Global Citizens Parliament takes place. Around 500 parliamentarians gather to discuss and deliberate about the most urgent issues of the day. The parliamentarians have been chosen at random for a limited term, following criteria that make them fully representative of all people and cultures on Earth. They will listen with an open mind and open heart, learn and make decisions they believe to be in the best interests of the world.

An abridged version of this address was published at Global Tapestry of Alternatives.