April in Chicago has come to mean two things: the daily weather forecast is, “60 with a chance of snow,” and it’s time for residents to make their voices heard in the PB Chicago vote!
You may read a lot about what’s happening with PB on the East and West Coast, but never forget that participatory budgeting in the United States started in the Midwest. Since 2009, Chicago has been home to a district-based PB process with 8 out of 50 Aldermen (councilpersons) allowing their communities to allocate $1 million in infrastructure funds.
PB Chicago aims to use participatory budgeting to promote Equity, Inclusion, Community and Coalition-building and Sustainability in the City of Chicago. Last year 3,343 Chicagoans used their PB vote to implement community improvement projects totaling $5 million. This year there are six new Aldermen joining two existing participants in the multi-ward effort coordinated by PBP and the University of Illinois Chicago’s Great Cities Institute.
Well known for corruption in government, the “Second City” may seem an unlikely place for a process hailed for its transparency, accountability and community power. However, things aren’t always as they seem. To quote Chicago native, Kanye West, “You know what the Midwest is? Young and restless.” These words have never been truer than in the last few years. Chicagoans are visibly restless and actively demanding change.
Last year Chicago witnessed waves of demonstrations with people demanding not only political, but systemic change. The municipal elections resulted in Mayor Rahm Emanuel facing a run-off (unprecedented in Chicago), a wave of new, progressive Aldermen taking leadership positions throughout the city (many of them campaigning on PB), a Department of Justice investigation into the possible cover-up of the Laquan McDonald shooting, and the subsequent firing of the police superintendent over this matter. Chicagoans demanding change shut down the city so many times last year I lost count.
And it didn’t stop there. The momentum continued into 2016 with massive organizing efforts led largely by young, queer, youth of color ousting State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who lost the re-election campaign by a landslide, and a recent April 1 Day of Action coordinated by dozens of organizations around the city in solidarity with the Chicago Teacher’s Union that saw 40,000 people take to the street demanding that we remove profit from punishment, raise the minimum wage to $15/hour, form an elected school board and an elected police accountability board and, last but not least, that Chicago have a participatory budget.
So while Chicago may seem an unlikely place for a process like PB to grow and thrive, it’s doing just that, in precisely the conditions that make it all the more necessary. All of the new PB Chicago wards are led by Aldermen in their first term. Chicagoans voted in change at the local level last year and are continuing to demand more community control over public decisions. Find out how you can vote in PB Chicago this year and learn more about the change that PB is bringing to our city by observing a PB vote this month
Contributed by: Maria Hadden, PBP Project Manager