Free Communities: Building Local Resistance and Hope Before the Next Election

The recent election in the US has caused an explosion of fear and concern not just because of the odious personality of President-elect Trump, but also because of the prospect of damaging laws that may result from the lack of progressive voices within all three branches of the federal government. In the days after the election there has been a rise in incidents of violence and discrimination, reports about the presumed appointment of unqualified individuals to top government posts, as well as an upsurge in feelings of powerlessness and despair among those who disagree with Trump’s vision for the US.

While some people are already thinking ahead to the next elections in 2018 and 2020, others are taking action now. Street protests have erupted across the country and donations have surged for domestic NGOs with progressive agendas. There have also been important soul-searching discussions about the need for increased dialogue and communication between different disenfranchised groups. A particularly hopeful development has been the recent proclamations by cities such as Seattle, Minneapolis and New York that they will not comply with discriminatory federal policies. The actions of these places, as well as other ‘sanctuary cities,’ show that political action can occur at scales other than the national, and through institutions other than the federal government. While it is a good start that cities are resisting and pledging non-cooperation with the coming administration, we want to ask a simple question: Why stop there?

What if cities aren’t the only entities making these proclamations that resist federal rule and call for more local political autonomy? What if schools, churches, businesses, college campuses, protest encampments, homes, farms, community centers, gardens, libraries, and neighborhoods start doing the same? This is not really, after all, a new political idea. In addition to the old cliché that ‘all politics is local,’ activists and political theorists have long argued that citizens can effectively challenge the power of a national government – and gain more local control over their political destinies – when not just mayors, but teachers, students, business owners, workers, church congregations, and neighborhood groups of all kinds proclaim the ability to politically control their local communities. In many instances, these places can then also amplify their power when they link together into wider associations with other like-minded places. In this way these places of non-cooperation can become not just places of resistance, but also sites for dialogue and coalition-building from which larger alternative politics can be built.

At a moment when Trump’s new administration looks like a threatening new totalizing power holding sway over the whole country, what if instead that territory started to become a mosaic of local spaces of non-cooperation at scales ranging from renegade states and cities, to neighborhood spaces we walk through everyday? What if a map of the territory where Trump’s power prevails looked less like it covered the whole country and more like a slice of Swiss cheese with ‘holes’ of resistance everywhere?

A new map of hopeful politics

Greater local autonomy and resistance will not solve all political problems emanating from Washington (dangerous military adventurism, cutting funding for women’s health programs, and a disregard for addressing global environmental issues all come to mind), but these pockets of greater autonomy could serve not just as sites of resistance to deportation and discrimination, but also as arenas to develop, incubate and nurture an alternative politics that eventually could address such problems.Because of this, we believe there is an urgent need to promote a politics of greater local autonomy that challenges not just the coming Trump administration, but that seeks to address the deeper structural inequalities that have pervaded the US for a long time. After all, discrimination and disenfranchisement did not start on November 8th. Anyone watching events during Obama’s presidency is painfully aware that people of color, indigenous people, religious groups, women, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals and working class people, have all long been targeted with state violence and confinement to cages – of both the literal type, as well as prisons of structured economic inequality and systematic discrimination. What is needed now, for everyone’s sake, are NOT just ‘allies,’ but accomplices challenging these centuries-old inequalities.

We are therefore promoting the proliferation and networking of these local spaces of non-cooperation and alternative politics – what we refer to as ‘Free Communities’ – which are pledging to oppose federal discriminatory policies as well as work towards economic equality and full political rights for all. We believe that local resistances can enable people to overcome feelings of powerlessness in the face of Trump’s election, and also become spaces from which to challenge some of the long running political and economic processes that have haunted us all for much longer than just the last week. To this end, we must protect, support and nurture those groups out there who are right now meeting and organizing to develop this ground-up vision, and we must also encourage the development and spread of networks of mutual aid between these groups.

We cannot afford to wait for the next election to act, and most of us cannot afford the luxury of pretending we can run away to Canada. We also cannot fall into a trap of relying on predictable protest tactics from the past. We must find new solutions together in the places in which we live. We must create not just cities of non-cooperation, but also homes, schools, churches and neighborhoods where we proclaim greater autonomy from Trump’s dystopian nightmare and create Free Communities that actively produce new political possibilities. Together, in community with each other, we can reach out with hope to others across the nation and the world.


Sasha Davis is an organizer with the Free Community Alliance, an Assistant Professor of Geography at Keene State College and the author of Empires’ Edge: Militarization, Resistance and Transcending Hegemony in the Pacific.

Jessica Hayes-Conroy is an organizer with the Free Community Alliance, an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Hobart & William Smith Colleges, and the author of Savoring Alternative Food: School Gardens, Healthy Eating and Visceral Difference.

Rebecca Croog is an organizer with the Free Community Alliance, a PhD student at Temple University, and does scholar-activist work with the Philadelphia Urban Creators.


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