The New Municipal Movements

Source: Roar Magazine

Much more than simply a strategy for local governance, radical municipalism is emerging as a path to social freedom and democracy beyond the state.

Just a short time ago, the idea of the United States electing real estate mogul Donald Trump to the presidency seemed almost unthinkable. Yet now that this impossible proposition has come to pass, a new space has opened for visionary thinking. If electing Donald Trump is indeed possible, what other impossibilities might be realized?

To date, popular opposition to Trump has been expressed largely through mass demonstrations and street protests. On the day of Trump’s inauguration, an estimated 2.9 million people marched throughout dozens of US cities. These watershed moments, such as the Women’s March or the March for Science, present people with much-needed opportunities to feel catharsis, express solidarity and recognize shared values. Yet, as protests, they are inherently limited. Specifically, they fail to bring about a program for the deep institutional transformation that our society so desperately needs.

Beneath highly visible mobilizations, grassroots and municipal forms of opposition to Trump are also taking shape. Under the banner of “sanctuary cities,” community-based organizations, faith groups, legal advocates, workers’ centers and engaged citizens have been setting up crisis networks to support immigrant families living under the threat of deportation. These projects, structured largely on a neighborhood-to-neighborhood basis, challenge dominant assumptions about political participation and raise the crucial question of what it really should mean to be a citizen.

Meanwhile, mayors and city officials have surfaced as some of Trump’s most vocal opponents. This past June, nearly 300 mayors, including nine of the ten largest cities in America, disobeyed the president’s wishes and re-committed to the Paris Climate Accord. Whether these declarations amount to genuine acts of political defiance or merely symbolic gestures by local elites looking to advance their careers is tangential. What matters is that during a period of unprecedented political turmoil people are calling upon local officials to act on behalf of their communities — regardless of citizenship — rather than according to the wishes of a far-right regime. They are looking to their own municipalities as sites of grounded political action and moral authority.

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