The Community Democracy Project’s Campaign to Create a People’s Budget

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Tia Taruc-Myers (top row far left), Nick Paz (top row third from right), Christopher J Chew (bottom row center, second from left) and other Community Democracy Project members pose for a photo in Downtown Oakland.

The Community Democracy Project (CDP) is in the final stages of a signature gathering drive to place an amendment on next year’s ballot that, if approved, would vastly increase the role Oakland residents have in planning the city budget.

“This is about the politics of hope and real hope has to be grounded in our ability to take action,” said Shawn McDougal, who came up with the idea for CDP in 2011, the year of Occupy Oakland. “The politics our initiative represents are about we, the people, believing in our ability both as individuals and as a collective to make good choices about how our lives should run.”

CDP’s initiative aims to allow voters to vote on The People’s Budget Amendment which would amend and add to Oakland’s City Charter to allow those who live in Oakland to directly vote on how its budget dollars are allocated.

The plan would create neighborhood assemblies, which would be gatherings for people who live near each other to, as McDougal puts it, “connect their daily lives to the larger community.” They would meet at least ten times per year.

The amendment would also create citywide committees that would focus on specific departments and be comprised of delegates elected by neighborhood assemblies as well as representatives from appropriate city departments. The citywide committees would receive input from neighborhood assemblies to create budget proposals that would use city funds. Then, when the city budget is being planned, all eligible voters who have attended at least one neighborhood assembly could vote on the proposals which would determine how city funds would be allocated.

In addition to those typically allowed to vote in Oakland elections, CDP’s plan would allow undocumented residents and those over the age of 16 to vote on the city budget. Translation services would be provided for each neighborhood assembly that needs them.

“I talk to a lot of [undocumented] people who tell me they’ve been here 10 years, 20 years, 25 years, and they don’t have a say,” said Oakland native and CDP member Christopher J Chew. “Their kids play with our kids but they don’t get a voice. That’s the lack of respect we show each other in our current system; what we hope to build is trust for everyone to grow together.”

To get CDP’s proposal on the 2020 ballot, they need 15% of Oakland’s registered voters to sign their petition within a six-month time frame. That means gathering 36,767 signatures. They’ve had about 100 people gather some signatures for them and about 25 of them have gathered more than 100. They started the signature drive this summer as an all-volunteer project but soon found that they would need to expand to pay some workers who wanted to help with the campaign but would have been unable to without financial compensation. So Chew started the Cooperative 4 Community (C4C), which is a worker-owned cooperative that supports CDP in its signature-gathering campaign and also does teach-ins about issues related to CDP’s work.

Many of those involved with C4C are youth from Oakland. Their funding comes entirely from individual donations and a 15,000$ grant from Policy Advocates, the 501c4 arm of Oakland’s Sustainable Economies Law Center, a non-profit that supports cooperatives.

“It’s been great meeting all these people and trying to change Oakland for the better,” said C4C member Nick Paz. “Right now it’s pretty much the richest and loudest voices that get heard and affect change. We want everyone in Oakland to have a voice.”

Although CDP is close to getting all the signatures they need, they’re still working tirelessly for the final push as Dec 9th is the last date the petition is due.

“We need more volunteers and we need every Oakland voter who sees us out on the street, in front of your local supermarket or tabling at Lake Merrit, to sign our petition,” said CDP member Tia Taruc-Myers. “We only have two and a half weeks left, and if we don’t get the number we need, then even though we’ve already accomplished so much, we’re going to have to do it all over again.”

Readers who wish to learn more about CDP or to join their campaign can email [email protected]gmail.com.

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