Why a Global Assembly? The idea.
How can the idea of universal human rights, which was already fought for in the European revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, be thought of and realized globally? Activists from all over the world will discuss this question at the Global Assembly, which will be held for the second time in Frankfurt am Main in March 2024.
The occasion is the 175th anniversary of the first German National Assembly, which met in Frankfurt in May 1848 and adopted a constitution for the whole of Germany on March 27, 1849. At the official celebrations in May 2023, the start of the National Assembly was honored as the peak of liberal awakening to democratic participation, freedom and fundamental rights. At the same time, a civil society network was formed in Frankfurt to accompany the anniversary celebrations with a critical view from below and to ask questions about the participation of all who make up the city and the country. The initiative that organises the Global Assembly is part of this network.
At the first meeting (a detailed report in German on the preliminary assembly can be found here) from May 14 to 18, 2023, the 45 participants from all over the world agreed on topics they will further discuss and deepen within working groups until the second assembly from March 15 to 18, 2024. Working groups regarding the following topics were formed and will meet in digital formats to then present their results in Frankfurt:
- Authoritarianism and Democracy/Extremism and Exclusion
- Gender justice
- Economic and financial (in)justice/labour
- Refugees, migration & statelessness
- Socio-ecological crisis and alternatives
The first part of the Global Assembly took place - after a public welcome in the Paulskirche - in closed session at the Evangelische Akademie Frankfurt. The aim was to provide a protected space for the debates of the participants, many of whom have to fear reprisals in their places of origin, to get to know each other and to have open debates. During the second meeting, they will present themselves and their results to the local civil society and the broader public in events and discussions as far as possible.
The idea for the Global Assembly arose from the conviction that we can only do justice to the legacy of the democratic awakening of 1848 if we broaden the national perspective to the global.
The idea for the Global Assembly arose from the conviction that we can only do justice to the legacy of the democratic awakening of 1848 if we broaden the national perspective to the global. The Paulskirche and the other meeting places of the participants were to become a "utopian space" for thinking and debating about ways to a world shared by all people, in which the diversity of cultures, values, ways of life and forms of self-organization are recognized. This has been achieved in a gratifying way.
“Germany wants to be one, one empire, governed by the will of the people, with the cooperation of all its constituent parts,” was how the liberal politician Heinrich von Gagern summed up what must have seemed like utopia to many at the time after his election as president of the National Assembly. In fact, the several hundred men (women were not among them) achieved a significant advance for their time: they wrote a constitution that was to turn Germany, which was fragmented into dozens of principalities and duchies, individual states and free cities, into a unified area of law in which – albeit to a limited extent – fundamental rights and democratic participation were to be guaranteed.
The body of laws that was passed in March 1849, failed on account of the old powers and the weakness of the bourgeoisie, which was only slowly gaining strength. But it is nevertheless considered a milestone on the way to a democracy that grants – at least in principle – equal rights to all people regardless of origin and social standing.
Today, this historic legacy presents us with new tasks: we need nothing less than a cosmopolitan idea of democracy and human rights.
Today, this historic legacy presents us with new tasks: we need nothing less than a cosmopolitan idea of democracy and human rights. This seems necessary not only because supply chains and capital flows have long since ceased to stop at national borders. It is also becoming increasingly urgent in times when national power politics and authoritarianism are experiencing a renaissance – combined with the violent enforcement of power-driven and/or economic interests.
Who we are: The initiative
About two years ago, people from German-speaking countries who are active in civil society, culture and science came together to form the Global Assembly initiative. The initiative is furthermore supported by a broad alliance of political activists from human rights, anti-racism, feminism and development organisations as well as media, political foundations and think tanks. Some have been working closely with partner organisations in the global South for decades. More about the different levels of work can be found here.
We are driven by the question of how the goal of economic and political participation for all, combined with the implementation of fundamental and human rights, can become a unifying foundation for global cooperation. How do we manage to face pressing global challenges, protect global public goods and preserve planetary boundaries?
How do we manage to face pressing global challenges, protect global public goods and preserve planetary boundaries?
We start from the assumption that the inalienability and indivisibility of human rights are a central point of orientation, even if in the current reality these human rights are instrumentalised for powerful interests and are often no more than lip service. How can they become formative principles of a non-hegemonic world order? What resistances do we face if we want to hold on to human rights and possibly expand them, and how can we overcome these resistances? How can those gathered in Frankfurt be bridge builders between the Global Assembly and their respective local and regional networks?
We know from experience that there is no change without public pressure.
We know from experience that there is no change without public pressure. How do we create a transnational public sphere under the conditions of digital communication? Do we retreat to the local and the national because that is where we can best defend social and political rights? Or are there still spaces for joint action across borders?
The first assembly in May 2023 will revolve around such questions. In the second assembly in spring 2024, the focus will be more on common principles for cooperation and transnational public spheres. The organisers are aware that the Global North bears the main historic and current responsibility for the exploitation of people and nature as well as for global inequality and injustice. To date, this responsibility has not been met, neither through a more just world trade order, nor through more globally just health care, nor through serious impulses for a radical socio-ecological transformation.
The Global Assembly: an open-ended process
When we invite activists from all over the world, we do not do so in the belief that we have the right answers or even the right questions. Rather, we assume that questions about the vision of truly universal, non-hegemonic values, forms and structures of common action can only be negotiated and (at best) answered together with those who fight worldwide on a local, national, regional level for a self-determined life, for their participation and their rights, and for a coexistence free from the power of control over other creatures.
We do not see ourselves as an organising centre of global networking efforts of protest against neoliberalism, neocolonialism, racism, sexism, autocracy and the return of nationalism. Plenty of such spaces already exist. But spaces for common open debates in which pressing questions are negotiated politically, strategically, normatively, but also in a mediating, narrating, analysing and searching manner are not only rare, but they are also becoming ever more politically confined. This state we want to counteract with our project.
The end of this process is open. It is up to the participants themselves which ideas, demands and initiatives they will present in spring 2024.
The end of this process is open. It is up to the participants themselves which ideas, demands and initiatives they will present in spring 2024. It is also up to them whether the Global Assembly should continue beyond 2024.