OPINION: Experts in Our Own Care — Our Community Dictates How Millions Are Invested

by Shaun Glaze and Jasmine M. Pulido

Our community has fought hard for this moment.

Tens of thousands of people protested for the vision of a world without police murders, one where Black death would no longer be funded by public dollars. The rallying cries to divest money from policing were clear. Community members and hundreds of community organizations pushed city leaders to reinvest those funds back into our communities most harmed by police brutality. Those closest to the issues are closest to the solutions. With that in mind, Black and Brown community members presented a vision where we the people decide how that money is spent — not elected officials. This isn’t a new process. Seattle has been doing Participatory Budgeting (PB) — a process that allows people in a city, rather than elected officials, to decide how money is spent — for nearly four years now. But now is the time for Black and Brown community members to design the process and lead the investment priorities for the budget. Over 100 community members became researchers to help design that roadmap based on feedback from thousands of community members.

Now is when we decide.

The Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) nourished our Black and Brown community members with a recent live online event, “Snack and Chat.” In this and other outreach events, our community is helping finalize the research that helps design the Participatory Budgeting in Seattle and beyond. Check out the online Zoom office hours every Tuesday and Thursday from 10–11 a.m. to meet researchers, ask questions, and share your insights. Black and Brown LGBTQIA+ community members who live, work, travel, study, worship, or attend service in Seattle are encouraged to participate.

Helping inform the research helps create the vision for how resources will be reinvested this year as well as in the future. Our research benefits participants by: (1) offering potential to be paid for your participation, (2) providing a way to connect you to resources you need, and (3) opening opportunities to hire you for your listed skillset. Our survey is online accessible and available in 15 languages. The survey covers needs like transportation, childcare, access needs for people with disabilities, and issues like food insecurity. The research also identifies what resources are necessary for business owners and community-based organizations as well.

We are eager to hear from people from all of the possible intersections who historically don’t have a voice in city-wide decisions, including those who were formerly incarcerated, are sex workers, people who use drugs, people with disabilities, people who are trans, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming, people who are from the African diaspora, people who are from the Duwamish Tribe, people who are youth, and people who are elders. Our research teams are primarily led by people who have these lived experiences. If you were to count each survey, focus group, community conversation, story map, case study, photovoice, or other research projects, you’d find there are well over 40 projects that are part of the Black Brilliance Research Project. We have intentionally sought to center the voices of communities disproportionately harmed by police violence. We have heard from all of these communities, in about 2,000 community needs assessments, and still we want to hear from more people.

This will be the culmination of all of our community’s hard work. The BBRP is nearing completion of its data collection at the end of this week. BBRP’s researchers present the final report of our findings at a City Council hearing on February 26.

When the final report is submitted, the City and community will have the official roadmap for participatory budgeting, including detailed recommendations for new community jobs that will help shepherd this process. Since the design and outreach phases have already started, in many ways PB has already begun. Starting as early as March, job postings will open for community members to assume positions that will serve to steward PB, like the steering committee and their supportive workgroups.

Decades of organizing, centuries of oppression and resilience all make this work possible. The hopes and dreams of our ancestors guide us. We are done with investing in systems that harm us. We’re done following the lead of the few people who think they know what’s best for our community. Now is the time to invest at least $30 million in what creates true community safety and health. Community voices must lead the way.

Complete the online survey here.

Attend office hours every Tuesday and Thursday from 10–11 a.m here

Shaun Glaze is the research director for the Black Brilliance Research Project.

Jasmine Pulido is a Filipina American writer-activist living in Seattle, WA.

Featured image by Susan Fried.

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