Building a New America with Jonathan Arias

#12 - How Participatory Budgeting is Improving Democracy with Obama Fellow Shari Davis

November 04, 2019 Jonathan Arias
Building a New America with Jonathan Arias
#12 - How Participatory Budgeting is Improving Democracy with Obama Fellow Shari Davis
Show Notes

“We the People,” as the preamble to the Constitution begins, suggests that the new federal government would be run by its citizens and administered to serve their interests--justice, tranquility, and to secure the blessings of liberty.  The Founders, however, were skeptical of direct democracy.  For this reason, the Constitution established a representative form of government where citizens would elect officials to govern them.  

A representative form of government certainly has its negatives.  Whose interests are really being served?  We see too many examples of politicians who lose touch with their constituents in favor of wealthy donors and special interests.  In these circumstances, democracy is violated.  A functioning government, therefore, needs a combination of representative and direct democracy.  In a direct democracy, the people who show up have the power.  So how do we combine the two?

In this episode of BANA, I’ll be speaking with Obama Fellow and Co-Executive Directory of the Participatory Budgeting Project Shari Davis.  Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget. It gives people real power with real money to fix problems in communities that will improve the quality of life for residents.

PB started in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989, as an anti-poverty measure that helped reduce child mortality by nearly 20%. Since then PB has spread to over 3,000 cities around the world, and has been used to allocate funds in states, counties, cities, housing authorities, schools, and other institutions.  The New York Times calls PB “revolutionary civics in action”—  it deepens democracy, builds stronger communities, makes government more transparent, and creates a more equitable distribution of public resources. 

Shari oversees PBP's advocacy work, technical assistance, and operations. She joined PBP staff after nearly 15 years of service and leadership in local government. As Director of Youth Engagement and Employment for the City of Boston she launched Youth Lead the Change, the first youth participatory budgeting process in the US, which won the US Conference of Mayors’ City Livability Award.  Shari first got involved in city government in high school, serving as the Citywide Neighborhood Safety Coordinator on the Boston Mayor’s Youth Council and working at the Mayor’s Youthline.  Shari is a graduate of Boston University’s Sargent College for Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and holds a master’s degree in anatomy and physiology.