"Making decision-making accessible to marginalised people"

Lauren Lolo is a municipal councillor and co-founder of “Cité de Chances”, an association that promotes civic engagement among young people from the economically disadvantaged Parisian suburbs. As a strong advocate of gender minority rights, she will be present at our hackathon on gender equality in tech. Let’s have a look at Lauren’s atypical career as she left Paris’ poorest area and was thrown into the well-heeled 16th arrondissement of Paris at the age of 16.

Missions Publiques. You were elected in the firster round of the 2020 municipal elections. You are a young municipal councillor and co-founder of the association “Cité de Chances” (CDC). Tell us about your background.

Lauren Lolo. I grew up in Clichy-sous-Bois, infamous for being the setting of the Oscar-winning film Les Misérables and emblematic of poor housing in the Paris suburbs. At the age of 16, I was hospitalised in the 16th arrondissement where I joined a different high school. I was surprised to find myself surrounded by high school students from a completely different social class, who followed the television political debates and were interested in public affairs. I asked myself: why am I not interested? Why am I not part of these decision chains and why are they?

Very quickly I realised that there were not enough young people from the same social classes as my own and I met Brandy Boloko who grew up in Sarcelles and with whom I founded “Cité des Chances”. We wanted to do citizenship education through practice and to take hold of “the public’s affairs”.

As for my involvement as a municipal councillor, I did a civic service at the town hall of Fosses in Paris suburb. It was the first time I had ever set foot in a town hall other than to get my identity card or for a lost paper. So, I met the mayor at the time and very quickly I wanted to stir things up. After this civic service, I decided to change course and instead of going into law as I had planned, I took up political science.

It’s actually a misunderstanding that brought be here today! I was a regional youth councillor for Ile-de-France and quite naturally the mayor asked me to “join the team for the elections”. I took this as an invitation to strengthen the team already in place, mainly in terms of communication. Then one day the campaign manager called me and reminded me of the deadline for signatures for the campaign lists. I realised that the mayor had actually invited me to be on the electoral lists with him! It was a great moment of realization. Today, my experience in the field with my work at “Cité des Chances” feeds my decision-making in the municipal council.

Missions Publiques: How do you view participatory democracy?

Lauren Lolo. Involving citizens in the decision-making process is the ambition that pushed me into politics from the very beginning. Today, the participatory mechanisms that we know, such as the Citizens’ Climate Convention, are mechanisms that I would very much like to see reappropriated at the municipal level. The major problem we face is the lack of time for citizens to take several days, without being paid, to travel and participate in an assembly. Citizen engagement takes time, and I refuse to fall for the simplicity and speed of online consultations.

The citizens I am trying to mobilise today are often women, often women with children. They are also young people, and young people today mean odd jobs alongside their studies, which makes it almost impossible for them to travel and take time out of their already busy schedules. Taking care of the community has become a luxury today. I myself, who am a municipal councillor, am a student at the same time, I am an entrepreneur, and I know how difficult it is to make time for my civic engagement.

In this sense, I am very much in favour of your forum to promote a status of the randomly selected citizen to infuse the right to participation more widely and to give an equal opportunity to everyone who wishes to participate. This status would free up the time needed for citizens to get involved without constraint over a given period.

But let’s not forget that this civic commitment compensates for a failing public service! MPs are paid with our taxes but in our disadvantaged neighborhoods, volunteers organise street outreach initiatives with their own money, even though they already pay the public services to do so.

"I am very much in favour to promote a status of the randomly selected citizen to infuse the right to participation

Lauren Lolo

Municipal councillor and co-founder of “Cité de Chances”

Missions Publiques: Why did you agree to take part in our Hackathon on inclusion in tech?

Lauren Lolo. The Equals EU hackathon on inclusion in tech is a welcome breath of intersectionality! The accuracy of what you said about representativeness in decision-making convinced me to join: whether in politics or in tech, there are few young black women aged 24, from working class backgrounds and working on the side to make ends meet. This lack of representation exists at all levels, whether municipal, regional, national or European. Employees and workers represent half of the working population and count for ten times less among the members of the national assembly. There are too few young MPs under the age of 25, and if we study their profile, they are young people who have never been subjected to problems of student insecurity and who are therefore less legitimate to speak out for young people who are struggling. In 2021, only 19.8% of mayors are women, 11.4% of community council presidents are women, 20.2% of departmental council presidents and 31.6% of regional council presidents. Finally, women are more likely to have control over small municipalities than large ones: in 2021, 22.4 per cent of mayors in municipalities with less than 100 inhabitants are women, compared to 18.8 per cent in municipalities with more than 1,000 inhabitants. The number of racialised and disabled people is ridiculous.

The hackathon is one way among others to make decision-making accessible to these too-often marginalised people. Setting up a daycare centre and paying attention to people’s pronouns can compensate for the lack of representation of society in sectors such as tech, which has long been dominated by older, white men. The fact of paying attention to the members of the jury, of specifying that only women will be able to lead a team, will make it possible to have innovations that are as inclusive as possible because we are the most legitimate to know what we are talking about.

Missions Publiques: What are the major hurdles that you would like the hackathon participants to overcome?

Lauren Lolo. For me, questions of legitimacy and equity are key. At “Cité des Chances”, I quickly realised that social determinism is something that is internalised, not necessarily conscious. I got involved in politics because I was told “you can do it! Go for it”. There was a huge gap between the interest we had in politics and the legitimacy we thought we had to give our opinion. Before I went through all this, I had no say because I knew nothing about it. And that’s really something that young people tend to think: you have to be an expert in something to be able to talk about politics. There are people who are qualified to…and others. Then there is this mistrust, these young people who say to us ” politicians are all the same, I don’t want to be like them and they represent me”, I tell them “if you don’t feel represented, put yourself out there and become that elected representation!”

In terms of equity, I would like to see proposals for adaptation and real intersectional approaches. How can bureaucratic processes be adapted to deaf people? How do we adapt speaking time for these people? How can we think of all possible categories of populations and how can we keep to the requirement of intersectionality? The question of geographical remoteness and the inclusion of overseas people are also issues that I hope the participants will take up.

I have hope for the tech field because I think there are fewer institutional barriers there. Innovation in general can always solve a certain number of problems, especially in terms of accessibility. I myself have been disabled since 2014, and home shopping delivery has changed my life among many other apps! This democratisation during the Covid-19 pandemic can break down barriers and include people in other ways. I also think that behind a screen, many barriers can fall. On social networks, I see women who talk about politics but never dare to go on TV to speak. I have more hope in tech than in politics.

To those who don’t dare to take the plunge, I say: “Come forward! Because to have an impact on a decision, you need to be supported, and the more people who talk about the experiences of women and people who are marginalized, the more we can defend them and make progress in the decision-making process. Be daring!”

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