July 2020 Kitchen Table Activism
Black Lives Matter: Understanding Your Local Budget
WHY THIS ACTIVITY?
As communities across our state continue to rally in the streets in defense of Black lives, we’re also bringing the conversation of how we create safety and dignity for all to our city councils, county commissioners, and local police. We know that “budgets are moral documents,” in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and how our communities spend our resources has an impact on the wellbeing of every person who lives there. Are our tax dollars funding the resources and services that truly keep all of us safe? How are we actively fighting systemic racism in our community, and does our budget reflect that commitment?
COVID-19 is also taking an economic toll on our communities with lost tax revenue that we rely on to fund essential services. Congress may still deliver some kind of rescue package this summer, so some major decisions on how to balance Oregon’s state budget have been delayed. In the meantime, many school districts, libraries and other services are already being forced to furlough or lay off workers and cut programs. Those that aren’t already making cuts are bracing for impact in anticipation of these federal cuts. Crises like this can be used to erode the resources we rely on that make our communities more resilient, like libraries and schools, while the fear can drive further investment in systems of policing that cause the most harm to people of color, poor people, people who are unhoused, those experiencing a mental health crisis and other marginalized folks in our communities.
WHAT IS THE ACTIVITY?
This is an opportunity to push our local decision-makers, even in the midst of these anticipated cuts, to create budgets that reflect our values of dignity and safety for all in concrete ways. While most budgets are finalized in April, the budgeting process usually begins in the fall, so the coming months are a great time to sit down with your group to begin to unpack your local budget, identify the questions you have, and begin finding out the answers!
STEPS TO COMPLETE THE ACTIVITY:
- Find your local budget: Local budgets are public documents and should be available for free. Local budgets are frequently available on the municipality’s website, at City Hall or at your local library.
- Get ready to dig in: Share these slides with your group from our Budgeting for the People workshops for some tips for understanding budget documents. Check out the Movement for Black Lives policy demands and think about how the demands might translate to your community and what steps you can take locally as we work to end the war on Black people.
- Break it up: The budget will have sections covering revenues and spending and often separate sections for different funds. You may want to begin by focusing on policing expenditures first, then tackle different sections.
- Determine the questions you need answered: What is the police department’s budget? Did it get cut last year or did it get enhanced? How does the system spend the money it receives? Take these questions to your local elected officials.
- Create an action plan! Concerned that what you see in the budget doesn’t reflect your community’s values? Want to ensure that the budgeting process over the course of the next year moves your community toward greater safety and dignity for all? Make a plan with your group to show up at the next city council or county commissioners meeting or join your local budget committee!
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know what you find and how we can support your next moves!
Background: Kitchen Table Activism (KTA) is a monthly activity by the Rural Organizing Project. The theory is that small actions can lead to powerful collective results as groups of people gather to complete the same action throughout the state of Oregon. ROP works to keep each KTA easily achievable so that groups with other projects or groups with limited immediate energy can still manage to complete the KTA each month.