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Youth Target City Budget, Voter Turnout

A new regional, cross-cultural organization of young people has added an analysis of the city budget – and a drive to turn out thousands of new voters – to an already busy agenda.

At a city budget hearing on August 22, Chicago budget director Paul Volpe agreed to meet with a research team from Public Action for Change Today (PACT), which is working with the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability to analyze issues of sustainability and accountability in the city’s budget. Mayor Daley has tentatively agreed to meet with the researchers and review their findings early next year, said PACT organizer Stephen Smith.

The research project will look at future revenue and cost projections, budget transparency, and spending on youth and young adults, Smith said. It will also seek to identify significant inefficiencies in the budget.

This summer the group launched its Voter Power Campaign, an effort to register new voters and get pledges from thousands of young voters to participate in upcoming elections – with phone numbers so PACT members can follow up with reminders. As part of the campaign, a series of legislative accountability sessions is planned.

Formally founded last December after two years of preliminary organizing, supported by the Industrial Areas Foundation and its regional affiliate, United Power, PACT has conducted organizing trainings, house meetings, and hundreds of one-on-one meetings with young leaders. PACT members are organized in caucuses – geographic (West Side, I-55), religious (Christian, Jewish, Muslim), institutional (City Colleges, alternative high schools) and others – in order to ensure cross-cultural diversity in each of its campaigns.

Compared to other organizing projects, which patiently develop long-term campaigns, PACT is highly action-oriented. The group has won restoration of cuts in state tuition assistance; an agreement from City Colleges to provide health referral services to its students; and an assurance that CPS will offer all high school students the chance to “opt out” from military recruitment drives. They’ve met with a series of Chicago Police district commanders. Their homelessness action team staged a sleepout outside City Hall to highlight the lack of homeless services for youth and young adults. PACT members developed a high school curriculum on school funding reform – covering all sides of the debate as well as who the decision-makers are and what students can do about it – which is being taught in a number of classrooms in the city and suburbs.

Aren’t young people supposed to be apathetic? “They’re apathetic like everyone else is apathetic,” Smith says. “They’re apathetic until you ask them what pisses them off.”

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Category: city budget, elections, youth

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