Civics 101 Brainstorm

What if we put a full court press on educating residents about how their government operates starting with the thing that already gets everyone’s attention: budget (and taxes).

A recurring theme at the top is: “The Government” should do more. My taxes are too high.

Our recent, local experience discussing Adopt-a-drain is a timely example of this sentiment among many who are vocal.

Let’s see what people actually know and get them to learn what they don’t but should.

I bet people in my city would be surprised to learn the basic fact that public education is 56% of our budget in Virginia Beach compared to 44% for everything else, including public works, public utilities, child services, police, parks and recreation, fire, sheriff, and information technology.

We could plan, organize, and host a series of forums and workshops paired with marketing and PSAs where people play live, active roles in setting their budget. We would bring the discussions to the people, not invite the people to come to city hall at 2pm on Tuesday. It could be On the Tables, visits to civic league meetings, high school and college classrooms, club meetings, senior centers, recreation centers, maker spaces, restaurants, breweries, churches… Stop in any Hardee’s early in the morning and you are sure to meeting 4–12 retired military, Vietnam veterans talking politics.

City of Virginia Beach already has all the tools for this. I’m not sure how much civic tech City of Norfolk is adopting beyond the Socrata open data portal and Peak Democracy. The other piece is Balancing Act.

It’s a brainstorm. What do you think? I could poll on it in NextDoor and Facebook.

UPDATE: a friend raised the topic of participatory budgeting. Participatory budgeting is a movement and practice unto itself and not what I mean here. What I mean is closer to public education. As many pointed out in their responses to adopt-a-drain, electing representatives and paying taxes earns the right to criticize and expect better from others. Criticism and expectation aren’t mutually exclusive from participation, however, and both could benefit from better education.

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