On Oct. 10 the Westside Community Stakeholders group hosted a discussion on the proposed 2017 budget at the Allison United Foundation for Better Living, 4540 W. Washington Blvd.
The discussion was anchored by Austin Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amara Eniya and Jonathan Peck, a youth organizer in Chicago for over 20 years, both of whom gave a presentation on their contributions to the recently published book, “Chicago Is Not Broke.”
In the book, the West Siders discussed the political landscape surrounding Chicago’s newly released budget and viable options for generating and saving revenue.
“Chicago Is Not Broke” is a multi-author collaborative effort that addresses how the city manipulates the budget and leverages tax-payer revenue for select projects, the contributors argue. CivicLab co-founder Tom Tresser, the book’s editor and organizer, raised $10,000 from a GoFundMe campaign to get the work published.
Enyia stated the purpose of the presentation was to empower residents with information, propose multiple revenue options Chicago’s elected and appointed officials should consider, and prepare city residents about the lasting impact the budget may have.
“We want to give resident a heads up as to what to expect [from the budget], as well as help them with some of the language, so they can use it to advocate for themselves [and] what they should be expecting from their local officials as we roll into budget season,” said Enyia.
Enyia called for Chicago residents to push their aldermen to hold public hearings and town hall meetings to explain how the budget will impact the lives of their residents and constituents.
She said discussions over revenue, transparency, and accountability is vital, because emphasizing good stewardship over the city’s resources will foster development in the hardest hit communities.
“The reason we’re talking about revenue is because, without revenue, all we’re going to hear is about scarcity and the city’s economy,” said Enyia. “We push revenue so we can move away from the scarcity narrative, especially when it comes to development in communities like Austin, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, West Humboldt Park and Lawndale, where we should have had development taken place over decades.”
Enyia proposed the city shift to a growth economy, where proactive investments in communities like Austin become the norm and suggested a public bank be established that’s beholden only to community residents.
Peck wrote the final chapter on how to proceed forward with newfound information. He encouraged Chicago residents to stay informed about the city’s budget, “follow the money,” become self-learners and understand the impact of how budgets work or don’t work for their interests. He also suggested that people go to their aldermen for more information.
“It’s not like we have to go that far to find the information, we just have to be active about searching for it,” said Peck. “I think this book is an incredible catalyst, it could be an incredible organizing tool and education tool to learn more about finances, how government works and how to access the resources in your neighborhood.”
Peck also questioned the funding disparity between neighborhoods throughout the city.
“You say we’re broke, you raise taxes; yet, you’re willing to spend $50 million dollars plus on hiring almost 1,000 new police officers and everything else is broke,” he said. “I think people should start questioning the public officials and the people who are supposed to represent us. There’s no reason we can have brand new hotels, brand new parks being built downtown, and our neighborhoods look like war zones.”
To learn more about “Chicago Is Not Broke” and purchase a copy, visit http://www.wearenotbroke.org/.