Power to the people: HEC Professor confident citizens will soon have more voice to sway policy

27 April 2016

HEC Paris Professor Alberto Alemanno says civic movements like ‘Nuit Debout’ are good for democracy but, in order to have their voice truly heard, need a professional leg-up in the form of citizen lobbying. An organization he is involved in (The Good Lobby) and a book he is writing aim to pair up experts with NGOs to help them act as a counterweight to big business lobbying.

Power to the people: citizens will soon have more voice to sway policy, says Prof. Alberto Alemanno - ©Fotolia kid_a

Alberto Alemanno has a positive outlook when it comes to the rise of citizen movements. They signal a new desire for civic engagement, says the HEC Paris professor, while gradually changing the political landscape for the better.  Alemanno, who teaches EU Law and Risk Regulation at the French business school, says their resurgence shows “the existence of a new form of power that is spread out, rather than held in the hands of a few.”

From Indignados to Nuit Debout: the emergence of a new form of participation

In the last decade we have witnessed the birth of civic movements like Los Indignados in Spain, Occupy and, most recently, Nuit Debout. Meaning “Stand at night”, this Paris movement was born at the end of March 2016 out of a protest against French labor law reforms, and involves daily meetings at La Place de le République in the French capital (and other parts of the country) about labor and other issues. The group even has its own TV and radio stations, broadcast from a makeshift tent.

Nuit Debout represents yet another example of a forum to express a growing demand for unconventional forms of participation that are outside of the usual channels of elections and voting. It is born from young citizens’ apathy about mainstream politics and a belief that their vote doesn’t give them true power to shape the society they live in.

Looking to the future, Alemanno expects even more civic engagement and a greater desire by millennials to engage on political issues without necessarily passing through the traditional channels of participation. However it will come up against obstacles. “This is problematic per se because the institutional structure won’t change, so we still need people to engage in traditional politics in order to continue our political discourse, but today it’s extremely difficult to do within the traditional political channel,” he says.

A challenge to the traditional political system

Of course creating a dialogue between members of civic movements and politicians is a challenge. Many members belonging to these groups are frustrated by the gap between political representatives – who are creating laws that determine quality of life – and the rest of society. They therefore distrust them. From a politician’s point of view, the story is similar: they see these movements as antagonistic and a challenge to the system. (...)

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