• Sat. Mar 25th, 2023


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The Campaign for Public Funds Controlled by the Public

Studies have found young people are more likely to vote in local and national elections after they were involved in P.B., more likely to walk into a city-owned building, more likely to consider going into politics, more likely to speak to a public official, more likely to volunteer and more confident in their skills.

Any favorite examples of P.B. in action?

In New York, it came up that Muslim women in a certain Brooklyn district needed resources to feel safer in their neighborhoods. Using P.B., they got a self-defense class on the ballot.

In Arizona, the Phoenix Union High School District decided to get rid of armed officers in schools. We’re going to take the $1.2 million from that contract and go through a participatory budgeting process where students, parents, guardians and teachers get to define what safety is and how to invest in those things. The vote will happen this spring, but already the community has built an understanding of what alternatives to policing look like.

In Boston, I launched the country’s first youth-focused P.B. effort, with $1 million of city funds. That included money to make parks more accessible. But right before we broke ground on one, I got a call from the city’s archaeologist. They said we had to stop because of a site there.

I said, “Can we engage community members to protect the site? You seem like you don’t have a lot of staff!” And it worked. We put out a call and soon were enlisting regular people to be archaeologists. Many were criminal-justice-system-impacted young people. Because of P.B., they not only had a chance to find historic artifacts in their own city, but there’s now a park in Boston that’s far more accessible than it was before.

What if the community chooses wrong?

Often I’m asked, “What if people make bad decisions? What if all the kids in this school decide they want a taco truck?” First, if that many young people are voting for a taco truck, I might want to look into why. But second, there’s an involved process we follow. You build relationships with the community over time, you have conversations, you track ideas, you score them, you vet them.

How does defunding Batman fit into this?

With Tracey Corder [of the Action Center on Race and the Economy, which focuses on racial justice and Wall Street accountability], I’ve been giving these workshops at youth conferences, placing everyone into a world they’re familiar with — Gotham — in order to envision a new one. We get amazing answers: What if the whole idea of a villain was flipped, and the Joker starts putting on quarterly arts concerts? Suddenly they’re imagining this new world, and no one’s talking about police and jails and prisons anymore.