Local Policy as a Haven for the Politically Disenchanted

For those who do not know me outside of this blog, I work in local policy. My day-to-day job is anchored in the world of economic development, a world that I have thoroughly enjoyed devoting myself to over the past five months. The contrast between the progress that we have been able to achieve in my hometown and the regression that many of us have witnessed on a regional, national, and global scale is unmistakable.

In many ways, cities have become the fortresses of the liberal imagination, holding back waves of reactionary politics as they swallow our federal and state-level institutions. It is our hope that, nestled in our concrete cocoons, we might be able to affect the change we so desperately wish to see in the world, or at least maintain some of the progress we’ve been able to realize over the past eight years. When it comes to the fight for LGBT rights, the movement for a living wage, the call to protect our environment, and so many more important issues, the buck stops in the world of local policy.

Granted, my day job has little to do with those issues, at least in direct manner. They are, however, things that I know I can work to influence in a positive way. One of the great things about local policy is that your average individual matters so much more than they do the national scene. They can circulate a petition with their neighbors, they can join community organizations, and, yes, they can even run for office on a shoestring budget — and win! Best of all, if they’re so unhappy with the way things are in their given city, they can move. Cities are, after all, our laboratories of democracy.

Local governments are resisting the newly-minted administration and its allies by making use of the diverse set of tools that are available to them. In Texas, police chiefs of major cities have testified in front of the Texas Senate in opposition to anti-sanctuary cities legislation that would effectively require local law enforcement officials to do the work of federal immigration officers. Other public officials have been more defiant in their opposition, with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio vowing to challenge the president in court if federal funding is blocked. Still others have focused their resistance on the realm of public policy. Cities and counties in Iowa have raised their minimum wages in spite of state GOP attempts to curtail local autonomy.

I do not mean to extol the virtues of isolationism. I believe in a robust national political discourse and regularly praise the discussions of policy and politics on my social media feed, to the chagrin of many of their (and my) Facebook friends. Abstention from participation in the national political discourse is something to be  frowned upon. Of course, there are respectful and productive ways to engage with the world of politics and policy, and those ought to be encouraged, but these conversations are vital to the health and well-being of the body politic.

What this piece is, however, is an observation; it is an observation that, during times of national crisis, our localities serve as strongholds for the resistance — for better or worse. In this case, it is for the better. The progress that we as communities across this nation will be able to achieve in the coming years will, hopefully, become something bigger. After all, what starts in local policy changes the world.

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