Behind the Scenes of Participatory Budgeting in District 39
By Rachel Fine of the Participatory Budgeting District Committee
As a District Committee member, I have been focusing on getting the word out about participatory budgeting and engaging our district’s diverse communities in this process. Although the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity getting ready for the neighborhood assemblies, our outreach efforts have targeted a number of communities.
One of the main goals this year is to increase youth participation. We are hosting youth breakout sessions at each of the neighborhood assemblies, beefing up our social media presence, encouraging youth to be budget delegates, and spreading the word to students and young people about all of these great opportunities to get involved! In addition to engaging youth, we wanted to host mini-assemblies at local neighborhood spots (e.g. popular bars, coffee shops, churches) and a Spanish-speaking assembly to reach folks who otherwise might not have heard about it. I really wanted to host one at Ginger's, the local lesbian bar, but that idea will have to wait until next year since our calendars were filling up with various events such as hosting mini assemblies, phone banking, and canvassing.
My main focus has been organizing phone banks to invite residents to the neighborhood assemblies. Our strategy was to set up a series of phone banks at people's homes. We organized one phone bank per neighborhood and invited anyone who wanted to help out. I realized phone banking is not easy and it was tough to find enough volunteers; however, the ones we did find were awesome! Fortunately, the anxiety of contacting people over the phone turned out to be totally unfounded. Everyone we talked to were receptive and thrilled to hear that participatory budgeting was happening again.
During the weekends, another District Committee member organized district-wide canvassing groups to reach people by flyering within the neighborhoods. My wife, a friend, and I had a blast walking through Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, and Prospect Park as we talked to people about participatory budgeting and the upcoming neighborhood assemblies. People had a lot of questions about this new way of deciding how to spend tax dollars and were in disbelief to hear that regular people like us really get to choose which projects get funded. After a little bit of convincing, I could see the wheels begin to turn as they started to think about all of the great ways the one million dollars could be put to good use.
Lastly, it was great to see the benefits of all our hard work at the neighborhood assemblies. There were a ton of new faces (only about half the people in the room said they participated last year) and the youth came out strong! I volunteered as a small group facilitator and in one of my groups, almost all of the members signed up to learn more about being a budget delegate. I am really excited about this year's process and all of the new folks getting involved.
I also love having a front row seat to it all on the District Committee. It is exciting to strategically think about what we want to do differently this year and really focus on empowering community members who otherwise would not have been involved in the PB process. I cannot wait to see what the rest of this year holds!
What does your neighborhood need? An improved park? Safer streets? New school technology? In participatory budgeting, you give your ideas and City Councilmember Brad Lander has set aside $1 million to fund them. And your votes will decide which projects get funded.