HUMAN RIGHTS BUDGETING: A Real-time Solution for the City of Jackson


If ever there was a city that needed to change how it manages its resources, that city is Jackson. As we all know, our beloved city is in a major financial crisis. The city is currently carrying a serious debt load from inflated staffing and gross mismanagement by the previous administration; and trying to address acute financial obligations mandated by the Federal government to modernize our infrastructure, particularly our water delivery infrastructure, which currently poses a serious health risk to our population—particularly our children—from lead contamination. But, in truth, these are only surface problems.

The deeper problem confronting Jackson is its declining tax base and constrained revenue streams. These problems flow from decades of divestment, deindustrialization, white and Black middle-class flight, and competition with the suburban areas developed and supported by this flight. On top of this, there is the political constraint that Jackson cannot create new tax policies to generate more revenue for the city without the approval of the state legislature. But all these dynamics are just symptoms of the systems that oppress and dehumanize us, namely the systems of white supremacy and capitalism.

So, the question is, given these constraints, what can we do to improve the provision of services in our community to better our overall quality of life? One answer is that we have to do a better job of managing the limited resources that we have. But how we do that is very, very important. The dominant way this is done these days is to follow the logic of neoliberalism, which calls for greater austerity and the privatization of the essential goods and services provided by a municipality, like water, electricity, public transportation, public housing, etc. This is NOT the route that we want to go, as it creates misery wherever it is implemented. We have to go a different route, one based on actually listening to people and taking their direct needs into account.

The method that we advocate be used is Human Rights Budgeting.

What is Human Rights Budgeting (HRB)? First and foremost, HRB is a type of participatory budgeting that centers on realizing the fundamental needs that enable us to be fully human, as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the full body of human rights norms, standards, treaties, and obligations. The key elements of this practice can be summarized in the following manner*:

  • Participation: a participatory, transparent process in which decisions about spending and raising public money get made directly by the people, especially by those most impacted by current injustice. Such a process should be guided by principles and criteria (so that it’s not a simple exercise of who has the greatest numbers or the loudest voice); and it should be about important revenue and spending decisions (not just about small pots of money that are left over after the big decisions have already been made).
  • Needs Assessments: public spending must meet people’s needs, especially the deepest, most urgent needs, but also needs that are experienced widely. That means we must have a process and criteria for assessing those needs. We must also have information on which populations are disproportionately affected by unmet needs. A government department stating that its programs are “needed” is insufficient. The budget must be developed—and funded—based on real human needs, and we must raise the revenue required to meet those needs. The excuse that we don’t have enough money is misleading—it’s more likely that money is not scarce but misallocated or not raised or distributed adequately and fairly.
  • Accountability: we must measure how we raise and spend public money against our values and principles, vision and goals (e.g. public money should not be raised or spent simply because we’ve always done it that way, or because some issues/institutions have greater clout or a louder voice or might otherwise lose certain privileges). Human rights principles such as universality and equity can help us develop indicators that tell us whether revenue/spending initiatives meet people’s needs for health, housing, good jobs, education and a healthy environment—and whether they do so in an equitable way. Raising and spending money equitably means that people/businesses who can afford it must pay more, and people or programs who have or ad- dress deeper/greater needs must receive more.

This is the type of budgeting and resource allocation that we need in Jackson to solve our problems. In order to meet this need, Cooperation Jackson and the Jackson Human Rights Institute (JHRI) have launched a wide-ranging Just Transition campaign, part of which is raising the demand that the city of Jackson must start adhering to this form of resource allocation. To help elevate this demand, we are organizing a Human Rights Budgeting training Friday, September 22nd  through Sunday, September 24th  at the Lumumba Center located at 939 W. Capitol Street. The purpose of this training is to start the organizing process of building a grassroots campaign that will compel the City of Jackson to officially adopt Human Rights Budgeting in 2018.

The Human Rights Budgeting campaign is part of our larger initiative to make Jackson a Human Rights City, anchored by a Human Rights Charter and a Human Rights Commission that will reinforce the critical work of Human Rights Budgeting.

As noted, the Human Rights City Campaign is part of Cooperation Jackson’s larger Just Transition campaign, which aims to make Jackson a Transition City defined by the development and institutionalization of the following interconnected systems and practices:

a) Cooperative Economics and Social Solidarity,
b) Climate and Ecological Sustainability, 
c) Human Rights, and
d) Digital Fabrication and Community Production.

Transforming Jackson into a real Transition City, we believe, is the work all those in Jackson who believe in justice, equality, equity, reciprocity, and sustainability. We ask you to join us in taking some concrete steps towards accomplishing this goal, starting by attending our September 22nd through 24th training to learn the fundamentals of what Human Rights Budgeting is, how it works, how to share this information with the community and how we can utilize it to help address the social issues that confront the city as a whole. Join us!

* Please note that the “key elements” text was provided to by one of our partners, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), who will be joining us for the training, as well as allies from SEIU 1199 from New York City.