2016-04-13 / Editorials

Civic Participation Must Be Open To All

BY MELISSA MARK-VIVERITO, SPEAKER OF THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL

When I began my work as a Council member, I arrived with the clear understanding that no matter the age, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, all New Yorkers should be at the center of the conversations and decisions that shape our City. You have to have a say in the making of policies because your neighborhoods and communities are directly affected. After all, who knows the needs of a community better than the people who live there?

Today, serving as Speaker of the Council, I am committed to listening to diverse New Yorkers like you and encouraging them to make their voices heard. This is why my colleagues and I are funding and aggressively promoting initiatives that bring more New Yorkers into civic participation.

Here in New York, residents who are 14 and older, regardless of immigration status, can vote in a process known as Participatory Budgeting (PB). Through PB, community members determine how public funds should be spent. Council members join the program by committing $1 million each to funding PB projects in their districts, and residents propose and vote on projects to improve their neighborhoods.

PB was first introduced in 1989 in Porto Alegre, Brazil to restore democracy after military rule and since then, has caught fire in more cities. I am proud to be one of the first Council members to have ushered PB into New York, where we are seeing true democracy and inclusion at work. Last year’s 51,000 PB participants are evidence of this: 60 percent identified as people of color; 63 percent were female; 10 percent were minors; nearly 30 percent reported an annual income of $25,000 or below; one in four was born outside the United States; 10 percent were non-citizens; 12,500 had a barrier to voting in regular elections; and one in five cast a ballot in a language other than English.

Voting in this PB cycle began on Saturday, March 26, when New Yorkers in participating Council districts have the opportunity to vote on hundreds of projects and decide how to spend $32 million.

We’re doing more to boost civic participation. We recently facilitated Student Voter Registration Day, an annual program initiated by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, and we’re funding outreach to register 10,000 new youth voters. I strongly encourage all eligible residents to ...cast a ballot in New York’s presidential primaries on April 19. Any U.S. citizen who is 18 years old by November 8 and is not serving a felony sentence or on parole can vote this year.

So whether it’s serving as a volunteer or voting in PB or in the upcoming elections, get involved! These initiatives, among others, are the foundation of a democratic partnership that is exciting, necessary and that needs you.

Learn more by texting PBNYC to 212-676- 8384 or follow us @NYCcouncil on Twitter.

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