Participatory Budgeting: Democracy in Action

By Beth Gunston, Strategic Partnerships Director

Imagine that you could have a say in how lots of public money could be spent to improve your community. Well, that's happening right now here in Oakland!

Think big and broad: services for folks who are homeless, immigrants, seniors, youth, or have disabilities; development of community gardens and other green spaces; street and sidewalk improvements; neighborhood art projects; etc. Everyone can vote in this process – regardless of your age or citizenship status – because Oakland wants to hear from you about what you think would most benefit your neighborhood. This is participatory budgeting (PB).

With PB, the community decides how to spend discretionary funds. Getting its start in Porto Alegre, Brazil almost 30 years ago and subsequently spreading around the globe, this is the first year for PB to come to Oakland. As a pilot project, residents of City Council Districts 1 and 2 have the opportunity to vote on how they would like the city to spend federal Community Development Block Grant monies to improve working class neighborhoods. Voting is currently taking place online and there were also weekend in-person events which included translators, food and childcare.

In order to increase participation from young residents under 40 years old, Oakland Rising texted thousands of people in the last few days to help get the word out. With the help of 6 volunteers, we achieved the following results:
• D1: Contacted 1,550 voters, 148 replies, 10% response rate
• D2: Contacted 1,410 voters, 110 replies, 7% response rate

One millennial D1 voter commented:

I was really excited to participate in the process and vote on increasing services for homeless folks. I look forward to my council district including more funding options to fund community centers, childcare, and job programs in the future.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, IS THE LAST DAY TO VOTE: Cast your ballot by 11:59 PM.

This is what democracy looks like!

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