People-Powered Budgets: A Case for Democratizing Local Budgets to Transform Our Cities and Care for Our Communities

March 11th, 2021
Kathryn Cai, Ph.D.

This is the time to fight for a radically different democracy. One that works for all of us. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated poverty for millions of Americans while a handful of billionaires multiplied their profits. Our communities suffered major budget cuts after the federal government failed to provide adequate emergency aid to cities and states. Unless we demand change in this moment, we will be subjected to austerity budgets in our cities for years to come. 

Although we are constantly sold a narrative of scarcity and competition, the reality is that our world already has ample resources to care for us all. Imagine if we could gather regularly with our neighbors to decide how our collective resources can be used to support all of us and to meet shared responsibilities. What might we decide to fund? What collective, public institutions would we build? What priorities would we realize that we all share? 

We can start this work today in our cities and towns. Our local budgets should not be decided by a small minority behind closed doors. By building people-powered democratic processes that prioritize our community's needs and desires, we can leverage our local budgets to care for us and enable us to care for one another. The work of democratizing budgets is a critical first step towards building a democratic society that truly includes everyone.