PBP’s work to transform democracy is only made possible by the commitment and generosity of our donors. Our donors sustain our work and our spirits – they are fantastic, unique, and passionate people, and it’s about time that you met them! This month, the spotlight is on one of our youngest and most awesome supporters, Ashley Kuenneke. Ashley has been volunteering and donating to PBP since July 2016. As an Amplifier, she donates on a monthly basis and helps spread the word of PB in her network.
When most of us are sleeping in on a lazy Saturday morning, you can find Ashley reading to school children, playing with shelter kittens, or planting vegetables at a local urban farm. She’s crazy about community engagement, and it shows. By going to local city council meetings in Newburgh, NY during her time in Americorps, Ashley witnessed the passion and integrity that local community members brought to their government and has been hooked ever since! She has devoted her time to deepening community participation, whether it’s going to school full time in Pace University’s public administration program, or working full time in their Center for Community Action to provide students with meaningful volunteer opportunities.
Ashley sat down with us to talk about how she got involved with PBP, and what inspired her to support us and join our work to transform democracy and give people real power over real money.
Why do you think this work is important?
I think participatory budgeting is important because it gives people a really independent say in where their money goes. Obviously, one of the main ways that shows what’s important to your government is where your money is spent. The policies that matter, the programs that matter are the ones that get funding, because if they don’t get enough funding, then they don’t work. I think having some direct say and some direct democracy happening is really great, and really important for people.
One thing I like a lot about how PB is implemented is that there aren’t a lot of requirements for who can or can’t vote. Obviously you have to live in the district, but you don’t have to come up with 5,000 forms of ID, you can be younger than 18, there’s not discrimination towards past felonies. Generally, the people marginalized by the structures that exist already are able to participate in PB, and I think that’s a really important thing to do – to engage people that otherwise are left out of the system, and giving them a way to still participate and stay engaged, and maybe find other ways to become more engaged from there.
What about our work compelled you to go beyond volunteering?
When I was looking at how to support the organization in addition to volunteering and thinking about donating, I really liked the idea that participatory budgeting is part of what PBP takes on in its own structure. So when you donate money, you can also help choose different projects and different areas of research that could happen. I thought that was really cool, to not just say “support us, give us money!” but also that you’ll have a role! It’s standing with the idea, it’s promoting, and also allowing that to be part of the organization itself – it’s really awesome.
Ashley is right – we really believe in this democracy thing.
To practice what we preach, PBP invites everyone who donates to our organization to decide how part of the donations are spent – it’s our own participatory budgeting process. Learn more here, donate, and submit project ideas for our 2016 cycle.
What inspired you to sign up as a PB Amplifier – not just a one-time donor?
I think it was partly wanting to find a way to continuously support it in an ongoing way, because I think something about PBP is that I want to see it expand and figure out ways to bring it to new places. That was really interesting and I was excited about it because I want to see it go everywhere. I wanted to be an Amplifier because it’s something I’m really passionate about and I really want to be able to bring it to other people. There’s not a lot of other things that I want to share and get people involved in as much as this, so I figured this would be a really good way to do that!
What does PB mean to you?
Participatory Budgeting is giving a level of power back to individual people, especially people who are typically excluded from the decision-making processes for things that impact them. It encourages those who are typically discouraged from being engaged, which is giving some power to the people and giving them a say in what projects exist in their area and giving them a way to participate in their government.
Where do you see PBP’s future? What is your dream for PB?
Eventually, something that would be really interesting is expanding PB from being infrastructure projects into taking on programs. Expanding the realms of what you can vote for in PB. I know in some other countries it’s a huge percent of the budget that people can vote on, so I think that would be really cool, and seeing people take that on and expand it here. Getting more people involved, having more diverse people participating, ideally having every NYC Council Member at least. I think something that’s exciting for me, from my experience in Newburgh, is that there are a bunch of smaller cities and towns that are starting to take it on.
What’s the biggest idea or project you would love to see PBP work on in the next couple years?
I’m interested in seeing if people who participate in PB in their city or town become more engaged in other areas of life. Are they, and how are they getting the skills to advocate more for themselves out of just this process? That’s a lot, but that would be something really interesting to research and know more about.
Stay tuned for more donor spotlights on our awesome supporters, or become one yourself
– donate today, or sign up to be a PB Amplifier with Ashley!