How can the growing movement for People's Budgets promote participatory democracy and social justice? Megan Castillo and Andrew Krinks joined us for a candid and insightful conversation about how they are using this innovative advocacy approach to advance a community-led agenda for their city or county's entire budget.
People’s Budgets are having a moment in the United States. From Los Angeles to Nashville, this exciting approach to budget justice has been popping up in frontline communities across the country seeking to advance a care first agenda, divest from harm, policing, and prisons, and invest city resources in services and programs that benefit their communities such as affordable housing, education, public health, and non-police violence intervention.
PBP Communications Associate Robbie Barton sat down in conversation with Megan Castillo, Reimagine LA – Coalition Coordinator for Measure J and Policy and Advocacy Manager at La Defensa, and Andrew Krinks, an organizer with the Nashville People's Budget Coalition and postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, to unpack this approach and its potential to transform democracy.
Robbie got things started with a brief presentation about People’s Budgets before launching into some questions and discussion with our distinguished panelists about People’s Budgets in action and the challenges of pushing for budget justice in the conventional budgeting process. Use the left and right arrows on the sides of the images to move through the presentation slides below.
What is a People’s Budget?
A People's Budget is a proposal from a coalition of community groups on how they want the city to spend its entire annual budget. They are a "radical re-imagining of democracy," as Megan described them, that take a democratic, community-led approach to deciding how a city or county should invest its resources (most of which are taxpayer dollars).
In contrast to a conventional budget drafting cycle, which is dominated by the mayor’s office, city councilors or county supervisors, and departmental staff, People’s Budgets use robust surveys and outreach events with community members to identify priorities for their budget proposal. Coalitions work in solidarity to build and advance the resulting budget platform during their People’s Budget campaign.
What do the People’s Budget campaigns look like in Los Angeles and Nashville?
Megan shared the history, ups and downs, and current state of their People’s Budget campaign, which initially came together and laid out Black LA demands in the midst of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. Los Angeles People’s Budget advocates are presently focused on the implementation of Care First Community Investment, a county level initiative that is moving forward after their ballot measure Measure J was halted in the court system after passing with 2.1 million votes in 2020.
As Andrew relayed, the Nashville People’s Budget Coalition also caught fire during the pandemic and pushed hard for budget justice and divestment from police and prisons in the county’s budgets for 2021 and 2022 before taking a much needed break to reassess. They are continuing to evolve their advocacy beyond the annual budget cycle and gather organizations together around common goals and platforms.
How can you start a People’s Budget campaign in your community?
Both of our panelists were clear that these campaigns should start and live in the grassroots. They invited folks to learn more about how their local budget process currently works, assemble with other community members, and to push for what their community wants and needs rather than what seems reasonable or easy in terms of demands for a People’s Budget.
With many communities where People’s Budgets coalitions have sprung up, there are plenty of examples out there, such as Nashville and Los Angeles. Dream big and push hard! Together we can reimagine democracy.
It was an invigorating conversation! Catch the full replay here.