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  • My name is Shari Davis,

  • and let's be honest,

  • I'm a recovering government employee.

  • And I say that with a huge shout-out to the folks that work in government

  • and on systems change.

  • It's hard.

  • It can be isolating.

  • And the work can feel impossible.

  • But government is the people that show up.

  • Really, it's the people that can show up

  • and are committed to the promise that public service offers:

  • service to people,

  • democracy

  • and fixing the problems that community members face.

  • Seventeen years ago,

  • I walked through city hall for the first time as a staff member.

  • And that walk revealed something to me.

  • I was a unicorn.

  • There weren't many people who looked like me

  • that worked in the building.

  • And yet, there were folks committed to addressing hundreds of years

  • of systemic inequity

  • that left some behind and many ignored.

  • Where there was promise,

  • there was a huge problem.

  • You see, democracy, as it was originally designed,

  • had a fatal flaw.

  • It only laid pipeline for rich white men to progress.

  • And now, if you're a smart rich white man,

  • you understand why I say that's a problem.

  • Massive talent has been left off the field.

  • Our moral imaginations have grown anemic.

  • Our highest offices are plagued by corruption.

  • We're on the brink of a sort of apathetic apocalypse,

  • and it's not OK.

  • We've got to open the doors

  • to city halls and schools

  • so wide that people can't help but walk in.

  • We've got to throw out the old top-down processes

  • that got us into this mess,

  • and start over,

  • with new faces around the table,

  • new voices in the mix,

  • and we have to welcome new perspectives every step of the way.

  • Not because it's the right thing to do --

  • although it is --

  • but because that's the only way for us to all succeed together.

  • And here's the best news of all.

  • I know how to do it.

  • The answer -- well, an answer,

  • is participatory budgeting.

  • That's right.

  • Participatory budgeting, or "PB" for short.

  • PB is a process that brings community and government together

  • to ideate, develop concrete proposals

  • and vote on projects that solve real problems in community.

  • Now I realize that people don't get up and dance

  • when I start talking about public budgets.

  • But participatory budgeting

  • is actually about collective, radical imagination.

  • Everyone has a role to play in PB,

  • and it works,

  • because it allows community members to craft real solutions

  • to real problems

  • and provides the infrastructure for the promise of government.

  • And honestly,

  • it's how I saw a democracy actually work for the first time.

  • I remember it like it was yesterday.

  • It was 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts,

  • and mayor Menino asked me

  • to launch the country's first youth-focused PB effort

  • with one million dollars of city funds.

  • Now, we didn't start with line items and limits

  • or spreadsheets and formulas.

  • We started with people.

  • We wanted to make sure that everyone was listened to.

  • So we brought in young people

  • from historically and traditionally marginalized neighborhoods,

  • members of the queer community

  • and youth that were formerly incarcerated,

  • and together, often with pizza and a sugar-free beverage,

  • we talked about how to make Boston better.

  • And we designed a process that we called "Youth Lead the Change."

  • We imagined a Boston

  • where young people could access the information

  • that they need to thrive.

  • Where they could feel safe in their communities,

  • and where they can transform public spaces into real hubs of life

  • for all people.

  • And that's exactly what they did.

  • In the first year,

  • young people allocated 90,000 dollars to increase technology access

  • for Boston public high school students,

  • by delivering laptops right to Boston public high schools,

  • so that students could thrive inside and outside of the classroom.

  • They allocated 60,000 dollars to creating art walls

  • that literally and figuratively brightened up public spaces.

  • But they addressed a more important problem.

  • Young people were being criminalized and pulled into the justice system

  • for putting their art on walls.

  • So this gave them a safe space to practice their craft.

  • They allocated 400,000 dollars to renovating parks,

  • to make them more accessible for all people of all bodies.

  • Now, admittedly,

  • this didn't go as smoothly as we had planned.

  • Right before we broke ground on the park,

  • we actually found out that it was on top of an archaeological site

  • and had to halt construction.

  • I thought I broke PB.

  • But because the city was so committed to the project,

  • that's not what happened.

  • They invited community in to do a dig,

  • protected the site,

  • found artifacts,

  • extended Boston's history

  • and then moved forward with the renovation.

  • If that isn't a reflection of radical imagination in government,

  • I don't know what is.

  • What sounds simple

  • is actually transformational for the people and communities involved.

  • I'm seeing community members shape transportation access,

  • improve their schools

  • and even transform government buildings,

  • so that there is space inside of them for them.

  • Before we had PB,

  • I would see people who look like me

  • and come from where I come from

  • walk in to government buildings for this new initiative

  • or that new working group,

  • and then I'd watch them walk right back out.

  • Sometimes I wouldn't see them again.

  • It's because their expertise was being unvalued.

  • They weren't truly being engaged in the process.

  • Put PB is different.

  • When we started doing PB,

  • I met amazing young leaders across the city.

  • One in particular, a rock star, Malachi Hernandez,

  • 15 years old,

  • came into a community meeting --

  • shy, curious, a little quiet.

  • Stuck around

  • and became one of the young people hoping to lead the project.

  • Now fast-forward a couple of years.

  • Malachi was the first in his family to attend college.

  • A couple of weeks ago,

  • he was the first in his family to graduate.

  • Malachi has appeared

  • in the Obama White House several times

  • as part of the My Brother's Keeper initiative.

  • President Obama even quotes Malachi in interviews.

  • It's true, you can look it up.

  • Malachi got engaged, stayed engaged,

  • and is out here changing the way we think about community leadership

  • and potential.

  • Or my friend Maria Hadden,

  • who was involved in the first PB process in Chicago.

  • Then went on to become a founding

  • participatory budgeting project board member,

  • eventually a staff member,

  • and then unseated a 28-year incumbent,

  • becoming the first queer Black alderperson

  • in Chicago's history.

  • That's real engagement.

  • That's being taken seriously.

  • That's building out and building on community leadership.

  • That's system change.

  • And it's not just in the US either.

  • After starting 30 years ago in Brazil,

  • PB has spread to over 7,000 cities across the globe.

  • In Paris, France,

  • the mayor puts up five percent of her budget,

  • over 100 million euros,

  • for community members to decide on and shape their city.

  • Globally, PB has been shown to improve public health,

  • reduce corruption

  • and increase trust in government.

  • Now we know the challenges that we face in today's society.

  • How can we expect people to feel motivated,

  • to show up to the polls

  • when they can't trust that government is run by and for the people.

  • I argue that we haven't actually experienced

  • true participatory democracy

  • in these United States of America just yet.

  • But democracy is a living, breathing thing.

  • And it's still our birthright.

  • It's time to renew trust, and that's not going to come easy.

  • We have to build new ways of thinking,

  • of talking, of working, of dreaming, of planning

  • in its place.

  • What would America look like if everyone had a seat at the table?

  • If we took the time to reimagine what's possible,

  • and then ask, "How do we get there?"

  • My favorite author, Octavia Butler, says it best.

  • In "Parable of the Sower," basically my Bible, she says,

  • "All that you touch You Change.

  • All that you Change Changes you.

  • The only lasting truth Is Change.

  • God Is Change."

  • It's time for these 50 states to change.

  • What got us here sure as hell won't get us there.

  • We've got to kick the walls of power down

  • and plant gardens of genuine democracy in their place.

  • That's how we change systems.

  • By opening doors so wide

  • that people can't help but walk in.

  • So what's stopping you

  • from bringing participatory budgeting to your community?

My name is Shari Davis,

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What if you could help decide how the government spends public funds? | Shari Davis

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/11/02
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