Hamline News

Red Wing and Willmar Selected as Hamline's First Citizen Assemblies Sites

Hamline University and Hamline political science professor David Schultz, noted expert on elections, politics, and public policy, announced today the selection of Red Wing, Minnesota and Willmar, Minnesota as the first two Minnesota cities which will host a unique new effort called Citizen Assemblies. Citizen Assemblies will engage residents in local government by giving them the tools and education to help develop policy recommendations for electoral reform in their own communities.

Funded by grants totally nearly $500,000 from the Joyce Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Professor Schultz and Hamline University will convene a total of three Citizen Assemblies across Minnesota that will educate and empower citizens to envision the type of local government that they believe will best serve the greater good. Both Red Wing and Willmar were chosen for their unique demographics and local community interest in the project. The subsequent city will also be selected on the basis of its complex political and demographic environments.

"At a time when the federal government and many state governments are polarized and often unable to act, local government is one of the only places where citizens still can have a meaningful voice,” Schultz said. “At the same time, many communities are experiencing significant demographic and economic changes, which aren’t always reflected in the officials that are elected to represent them. We will work with a demographically-representative group of residents to get first-hand insight into what government reforms these often underrepresented citizens believe would enact real change.”

Members of Citizen Assemblies will participate in an intense education process, led by a variety of experts, in order to gain a more in-depth understanding about what government does and how it operates. Then the residents will deliberate among themselves to decide what reforms may be best suited for their communities.

“The design of Citizen Assemblies is to go beyond the 24/7 social media news cycle, which has often produced a highly partisan, polarized, and sometimes uninformed debate about government and what it does,” Schultz said. “In Red Wing, Willmar, and the other city that we select, debate will take place in a more informed and non-partisan fashion, hopefully providing a model for a better way to engage in political debate in the United States. The hope is that over the next year Citizen Assemblies will educate citizens, produce valuable information about political debate, and enact political change.”

The plan is also that the information will be useful to other communities, government officials, and foundations and organizations that are interested in producing better government and more well-informed political debate.

Anyone interested in following the Citizen Assemblies’ progress can go to the website mncitizens.org, or follow on Facebook, Twitter, or email for more information at hello@mncitizens.org.