Cleveland VOTES’ history with the Funder’s Committee for Civic Participation
In late April, I had the opportunity to attend the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation’s (FCCP) Annual Convening in New Orleans, Louisiana. This year’s theme was Philanthropy in Formation. The FCCP is an innovative network that shares an underlying conviction that all people deserve a voice in the democratic process. They serve leaders in the philanthropic community working to further this vision with heightened attention to sociopolitical inequity and the systemic disenfranchisement of underrepresented communities. From advancing voter registration efforts in the 1980s, to supporting campaign finance reform in the 1990s, to investing in new voting technologies and election administration reform in the 2000s, the FCCP has served as a catalyst for philanthropy’s growing civic engagement community. Today, they work to build an effective network of grantmakers who are passionate about realizing a collective vision of a vibrant and inclusive democracy for all [Source: FCCP].
While this was my first time attending this annual conference, I have been aware of the FCCP since 2019. Cleveland VOTES served as a lead organization for the 2020 Census for our region, and I attended a number of their virtual sessions focused on organizing for the Census. Those sessions were incredibly informative and additive to our work in Cleveland. So how did I find myself at the FCCP Convening this year? Shari Davis, Co-Executive Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) extended an invitation to the People’s Budget Cleveland Coalition (formerly Participatory Budgeting Cleveland) to serve as a panelist for one of the workshops. My fellow Coalition members asked if I could represent the crew in NOLA, and I enthusiastically agreed! Also, since Cleveland VOTES acts as a grantor in the community, I knew I would gain some tools and insight that I could incorporate into our own funding strategy.
How participatory budgeting and organizing around ARP, IIJA and IRA can strengthen civic participation
Leading up to the conference, Shari led myself and fellow panelists through a few planning and preparation sessions. I’d like to take a moment to recognize these amazingly brilliant folks:
Shari Davis, Co-Executive Director of PBP (Moderator)
Eduardo Garcia, Senior Policy Manager (Latino Community Foundation)
Domenico Romero, Senior Program Officer (Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock)
Our session, “How Participatory Budgeting and Organizing around ARP, IIJA and IRA can Strengthen Civic Participation” was held on the first day of the convening. To ensure we maximized our 90-minute session, we decided to spend part of the time presenting on our respective campaigns/efforts, and—in true participatory style-–the second half of our session was an engaging workshop. Domenico kicked us off with a grounding, and then Shari provided an overview of PBP/Participatory Budgeting (PB).
Next up, Eduardo discussed the role of philanthropy and PB, as well as the ways the Latino Community Foundation has been able to work with community-based organizations and local governments to leverage the American Rescue Act funds to invest in much needed efforts in the Latino community. Richard, who is not only an organizer, but also an artist in Sacramento, discussed the successful passage of Measure U, which provided $1 million to establish their PB program. Finally, I rounded out the presentation portion of our workshop, discussing the origins/evolution of PB Cleveland and what’s on the horizon for our campaign. Following our presentations, we led the participants through a collaborative discussion around how to build and resource organizations and infrastructure focused on community-led decision-making and co-governance.
What I learned about democracy building at the convening (and my new democracy “wish list” for Cleveland)
For the remainder of the convening, I attended sessions that covered topics such as: building/sharing power + collaborative governance, people/power/participation, the intersection of hip hop and civic participation, defending democracy/ballot measures, mobilizing young BIPOC voters, and philanthropy’s role in investing in multi-entity organizations (I’ll return to this workshop momentarily).
There were also a few themes that were threaded throughout all the sessions. I compiled a list, which can be seen below.
I would love to see these themes become a reality in Cleveland and the other communities that we serve. I believe the time for an update in civic engagement infrastructure is now, and not just because we have a Presidential Election next year. The time is now because our ability to shift power and realize participatory budgeting is critically needed; our reproductive rights are on the line; and our voting rights and power to run fair and equitable citizen-led statewide ballot initiatives are currently on the line. I hope you will join Cleveland VOTES, too, as we continue to heal our communities from generational harms and systemic racist policies that for far too long haven’t allowed us to see a more liberated and just state that we so desperately desire.
Thanks again to the FCCP for hosting an engaging, inspiring and thought-provoking convening! To everyone who couldn’t attend, the FCCP released a summary of the event, Philanthropy in Formation: 2023 Convening Review. You can see it here.
Onward to democracy,
I’d like to give a special shout-out to the New Left Accelerator (NLA). NLA imagines a world where the mobilization and enfranchisement of millions of people has realigned power in our country; where grassroots organizations led by impacted communities have the power to advance and protect social, racial, and economic justice policies that strengthen our democracy and liberate us all from systemic oppression. During their workshop at the conference, founder Deborah Barron shared their recently released report, Unlocking Progressive Power-Building. I’d also recommend checking out the Ohio Ecosystem Overview.