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In June 16-17th 2023 we realized the Our Common Power international conference. This event is a continuation of the Our Common City conference,  that we held on two previous occasions where we explored the role of social movements in transforming local governments, and the practices of equitable local government, and the issues of grassroots political education.

The two-day international conference, held at CEU, featured 7 panel discussions and brought together activists, community organizers, theorists, and politicians to discuss the possibilities of organizing and political work for a just, inclusive, equitable, respectful, and sustainable society. The first day of the conference focused on grassroots initiatives and the social and political nature of regime change, and the second day explored how the above principles can be applied in social movements and local government in an authoritarian political environment.

The panel discussions were led by experienced moderators who themselves had expertise in their topics. With their help, the audience could have been introduced to various perspectives, experiences, and thoughts thanks to the speakers. The conference hosted several foreign activists, including community organizers from the US, a Russian rights defender living in emigration and European members of the municipalist movement, etc. Naturally, we also invited experienced members of the Hungarian movement and civic life (e.g. from the Roma, Feminist, or Education movement) and progressive politicians, too. This unique mixture of various backgrounds enabled a new kind of understanding of the dynamics, trends and potential of social change.

The conference had the following panel discussions:

  • How do regime changes happen? The role of civic organizations

In this panel discussion we will discuss the various ways in which authoritarian regimes have been and can be ended including experiences from Eastern Europe and the United States. We will focus on the political, economic and organizing aspects of regime change.

Participants: Grigory Frolov (Vice President of Free Russia Foundation), Alejandra Gomez (co-executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona), Bernadett Sebály (junior researcher at the CEU Democracy Institute), moderator: Tessza Udvarhelyi (founder of the School of Public Life).

  • Mass constituency organizing – how to build networks on a national scale?  

In this panel discussion, we will explore experiences of grassroots organizations that move beyond the local level and attempt to organize individuals and communities around issues at a larger scale.

Participants: Bolba Márta (evangelical pastor in Józsefváros), Rácz Béla (Co-founder of 1Magyarország Kezdeményezés, community organizer), Törley Katalin (teacher, representative of the Tanítanék Movement), Gordon Whitman (Managing Director for International Organizing at Faith in Action), moderator: Adrienn Zubek (director at Polgár Alapítvány az Esélyekért)

  • Translating community power to political power

In this panel discussion, we will explore the possibilities of using community organizing as a vehicle for progressive political change, the possible dynamics of civic and political actors in elections as well as the possible relationship between political parties and community organizations.

Participants: Dávid Csepregi (member of Szikra Mozgalom), Nika Kovač (founding director of the 8th of March Research Institute), Doran Schranz (Executive Director of ISAIAH and Faith), Viktor Szalóki (network coordinator of aHang), moderation: Mónika Bálint (Executive Director of Civil Kollégium Alapítvány).

  • How is Budapest doing in 2023?

At this event, the Mayor of Budapest and representatives of key civil society organisations discussed how they assess the situation of the capital in terms of housing, social issues, equal opportunities, sustainability and social participation. They also discusse what should be done to make Budapest a fair and healthy place where everyone has access to essential public services and opportunities.

Participants: Gergely Karácsony (mayor of Budapest), Vera Kovács (Utcáról Lakásba Egyesület) János Mező (Greenpeace Hungary), Marietta Herfort (Female Roma Network),  Miklós Merényi (municipal expert at K-Monitor Egyesület), moderated by Dóra Ónody-Molnár (journalist)

  • Social imagination: how to think about our past and our future in desperate times?

In this panel discussion, we will explore the role of imagination in social change, the ways in which our imagination is restricted by both political apathy and authoritarianism as well as the ways in which our imagination can be liberated for both the past and the present.

Participants: Csaba András (Senior Lecturer at Department of Film and Visual Studies, University of Pécs), Tessza Udvarhelyi (founder of the School of Public Life), Márton Gulyás (Partizán), moderation: Bernadett Sebály (junior researcher at the CEU Democracy Institute).

  • Feminist and anti-racist governance

In this panel discussion, we will look at the role of feminism and anti-racism in political institutions. We will look at the current realities of local and national governments as well as social movements and discuss the ways in which government structures can be transformed in ways that serve the needs of everyone and combat all forms of oppression.

Participants: Maria Francesca de Tulio (activist of l’Asilo / Feministisation of Politics collective), Andrea Krizsán (Professor at Central European University, Senior Research Fellow at Democracy Institute), Béla Rácz (Co-founder of 1Magyarország Kezdeményezés, community organizer), Rev. Dr. Gregory J. Edwards (POWER Interfaith’s Chief of Staff), moderation: Ági Fernengel (director of the School of Public Life).

  • How to maximize what a city can accomplish in a hostile state?

In this panel discussion we will talk to three people who all came from civil society to work in local governments in Hungary in 2019 with great hopes of social and political transformation. Where are they standing now? What are their accomplishments and barriers?

Participants: Bálint Misetics (Social Policy Officer at Mayor’s Office of Budapest), András Pikó (Mayor of the 8th district in Budapest), Andrea Varga (Deputy mayor of Miskolc), moderation: Miklós Merényi (municipal expert at K-Monitor Egyesület).

The conference was attended by 168 people, 948 people followed the live broadcast and a further 940 have since viewed the recordings. On-site participants reported a satisfaction rating of 4.6 (on a scale of 5), which, in addition to the high level of interest, also underlines the success of the conference. The roundtable discussions of the conference are available online (in original language).

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