Students at downstate Illinois’ Knox College, of which I am a proud graduate, all learn the tale of Abraham Lincoln’s visit to the campus to debate Stephen Douglas. According to legend, the crush of the assembled crowd prevented Lincoln from reaching the debate platform. Intead, Lincoln, who did not have a college degree, accessed the stage through a window at Knox’s Old Main building, whereupon he announced, “At last I have gone through college.”
To paraphrase Lincoln, I now can say, “At last I have gone through Harvard.” Last week, I was proud to accept an invitation from the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School to speak on a topic near and dear to me–the 49th Ward’s Participatory Budgeting initiative. I spoke of the success we’ve experienced in the 49th Ward, giving the people the power to determine by direct vote how to spend a portion of their tax dollars. I also related some of the challenges we face in ensuring participation that is truly reflective of our community’s diversity.
Word of our successful Participatory Budgeting process is spreading both near and far. Close to home, twelve successful candidates for Chicago alderman–six incumbents and six newcomers–have pledged to launch participatory budgeting in their wards. And city council members and community activists in cities and towns as diverse as Boston, Cambridge, Lawrence and Springfield, Massachusetts; San Francisco, Berkeley and Vallejo, California; Madison, Wisconsin; Providence, Rhode Island; and New York City, have all expressed strong interest in implementing a version of Participatory Budgeting in their cities and towns.
Community activists see it as a promising vehicle for empowering disenfranchised communities and elected officials view it as a very useful tool for staying in close touch with their constituents.
The next 49th Ward Participatory Budgeting election is Saturday, May 7th, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., at the Chicago Math and Science Academy, 7212 N. Clark. You will have an opportunity to vote on your favorite project proposals for the 49th Ward’s 2011 capital budget. It is a wonderful community building experience, and I urge you to make every effort to vote on May 7th. If, however, you simply cannot make it that day, you will be able to vote early at my 49th Ward Service Office, 7356 N. Greenview (at Jarvis), from Monday, April 25th through Friday, April 29th, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Wednesday until 7 p.m.).
I’ll see you at the polls!