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Engaging people typically left out of the public decision-making process

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Engaging people typically left out

I was inspired by a song by Little Simz called Angel. There’s a line that says “don’t tell me I shouldn’t just because you couldn’t.” I feel that energy right now, but we are facing big time challenges. The issues are humongous, and it’s easy to feel defeated by them. The system and status quo are strong but only as strong we let it be.

If we can change the conditions and change what’s happening on the ground, if we can build relationships and have conversations with people that move us out of our head space into heart space, and we act from our heart space, we can change things.

Engaging people typically left out of the public decision-making process

Q&A with Desirae Simmons

AMY KURAS | THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2023

Desirae Simmons is the co-director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice in Ypsilanti that focuses on transformational change for social justice rooted in community.

Your organization was involved in advocating for a participatory budget process for Washtenaw County. Can you tell us about what that looked like in practice? Where were some of your wins? 

The way we started the campaign isn’t how we ended it, which sometimes is what happens in this work. We did succeed in helping to raise awareness about what the participatory budget process looks like and to gain support from some members of the county commission and to explore ways to use it in the future. We are planning on continuing that push until we get to that place where they are doing more participatory budgeting.  

On the community side, we are able to educate about what the county budget looks like now and to help engage people in that process. We set up small group discussions focused on different populations who are typically left out of decision-making or folks who experience very high impact when funding is not going where we see the greatest need. I facilitated a lot of them with young folks.

Another group we met with was the unhoused community -- we had conversations with folks at warming centers and at places that support the unhoused community. There is a need for is an overnight shelter on the east side of the county. We need more beds so no one needs to sleep on the streets. Now we are leaning into this, really thinking about how we build out a proposal but also build some kind of community infrastructure around it.

We noticed that when it came to using ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] funds, they’re focused on projects they call “shovel-ready.” That means someone has already done all the work. We want to get proposals together with community engagement and then start pushing it for policymakers to internalize it, so when that money comes up they can say “we know what we can do.”

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