“Every year I engage in PB I learn more about the process and am more interested in community organizing.” Naomi Estevez, 16 years old
“Through PB, it feels like my voice is being heard as a person of color and a teen.” Darnell Maxwell, 17 years old
This is participatory budgeting (PB) in action. PB builds empowering spaces for those who normally don’t get a voice in government, including young folks like Naomi and Darnell as well as formerly incarcerated individuals, undocumented people, and many others.
Naomi and Darnell are part of the youth program at Friends of the High Line–an organization in New York City that maintains and operates the High Line and raises 98% of its annual budget. Friends of the High Line partnered with Councilmember Corey Johnson’s office in 2014, when PB was launching in District 3. This is their third cycle helping with the process.
When Friends of the High Line learned that Johnson’s office was launching PB, they proposed that their teen staff, particularly those who live in the neighborhood and in public housing, be PB leaders.
“We believe,” said Myrna Cabán Lezcano, Youth Programs Manager at Friends of the High Line, “youth should be leading any processes that impact their lives.”
Naomi has been involved with PB as a leader since she was 14 years old. PB makes her feel like part of a process to make real democracy happen. “When I talk to people in my neighborhood, most people are surprised and shocked that they have the power to make decisions for their own community. It excites me to see people feeling like their voice is being heard.”
Darnell is new to the process and mentioned that PB has been extremely informative for him. “What excites me about PB is that the act of improving your community is just showing up–showing up to put your idea down and showing up to vote on a project. It can be so simple to see the change you want to see in your community through PB.”Last year, the young PB leaders from Friends of the High Line proposed a project to plant $100,000 worth of trees and tree guards on blocks with little or no trees in their district. Their idea won first place–more than half of the 2,000 votes! “I am really inspired when I see youth moving beyond their comfort zones and into their leadership,” said Myrna. “At this year’s District 3 PB Kick Off on the High Line, Naomi led breakout sessions where she spoke about PB and the role of youth in the process. Her knowledge about PB and her ability to share that with new folks is powerful. It gives me hope!”
On August 1, 2016, the Movement for Black Lives released its platform to elevate the experiences and leadership of the most marginalized Black communities. The platform lifted up PB as a way to build real community control in local, state, and federal government.
“I can’t think of a reason why people wouldn’t want to be part of and support PB,” said Naomi. “I feel like a lot of people of color don’t have a voice in their communities meaning they don’t have opportunities to share and express how they really feel about certain things that take place in their communities. PB places power back in the hands of the community and makes people, especially people of color, feel empowered by the decisions they are making in their own communities with real money.”
Friends of the High Line is one of many exemplary community-based organizations working with their local elected officials to collaborate through PB. “Even when projects are not funded in a particular year, the Councilmember can become more aware of the community’s needs and advocate for those improvements to be funded,” said Myrna. “The more people become involved, the more we can better the PB process and use it (or something like it) to fund things that are important to us and impact our lives.”
Friends of the High Line is a member of the PBNYC Steering Committee, alongside other individuals, community organizations, and Councilmembers that help guide the process and support PB across New York City. The Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) is also a member of the Steering Committee, we provide technical assistance to the PB process.
You know the power of PB to transform communities and residents. Today on #GivingTuesday, an international day of giving, we are launching our Democracy Made by You Campaign. Our goal is to raise $30,000 to amplify PB’s impact, build stronger communities and empower residents like Naomi and Darnell.
We invite you to help us build on our shared vision of repairing the broken relationship between government and the people please give today and help us launch and support PB processes in many more communities.