As a wise friend of mine has noted, blue states and cities are about to become bastions of sanity and compassion in a world of unitary Republican control of the government. Republicans can’t wait to start shredding our already tattered social safety net and minority rights protections. But blue states, at least for the moment, and blue cities, to a lesser degree, can potentially do quite a bit to ameliorate the worst Republican “I got mine – screw you” impulses.
Well, some blue cities can act.
Those that are islands in the midst of red states are increasingly being hampered by something called “pre-emption.” (Slate recently had an excellent piece explaining what that is). In short, red states pass “pre-emption” laws that prohibit local governments from making their own civic decisions. (Edit: The Atlantic also came out with a terrific piece explaining what pre-emption is and the impact it has in their March issue.)
You may have voted for a city council or mayor or township representatives or county clerk on the basis of their campaign pledge to raise the minimum wage or enact a local non-discrimination ordinance or launch a needle exchange program or instruct local law enforcement NOT to arrest people for minor possession (often the first step in marijuana legalization efforts). Well, the state “pre-empts” that, swooping in to say, for instance, “No way – we say it’s legal to discriminate against LGBT people, and you’re not allowed to say differently, Charlotte, NC.”
In this, red states are taking a page from Congress’s book with regards to the District of Columbia. Not only do nearly 700,000 of your fellow citizens (more than the population of either Wyoming or Vermont) NOT have any representation in our federal legislature (taxation without representation, y’all, and for those who are unaware, DC pays WAY more than it gets back), Congress ALSO meddles in local decisions and laws on a regular basis by misusing their Constitutionally-mandated oversight of the DC budget.
Congress has wreaked all kinds of havoc over the years, everything from forbidding DC to move forward with a city-sponsored needle exchange program when the city was being ravaged by HIV/AIDS in the late 1980s to prohibiting DC from spending entirely local funds on things like police and trash collection every time Congress throws a temper tantrum and shuts down the government to their latest, trying to overturn DC’s recently-passed right-to-die legislation (despite the fact that SIX other states have similar laws).
DC is the United States’ last plantation. And if you think it’s a coincidence that Congress behaves this way towards a city that was, until recently, majority African-American and remains overwhelmingly Democratic majority, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
Enter Defend Local, a campaign launched by Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum. As their website states:
“Out-of-touch state lawmakers, lobbyists, and special interests are trying to silence your voice and your values. We’re a non-partisan, grassroots coalition of local mayors, commissioners, community leaders, and people like you. And we’re defending your right to have local solutions to local problems. It’s what you voted for. It’s what your taxes pay for. It’s what you deserve.”
We on the left have a long and justified history of suspicion of anything that smacks of “states rights” – after all, that’s been used by southern states to try to justify racism and racial discrimination pretty much ever since the founding of the US. But we are also TERRIBLE at paying attention to local and state politics, which is part of what got us into our current predicament. We want to fall in love with a Great Man of History every four years, and then we stop paying attention. Joke’s on us – we’re now ONE statehouse away from the Republicans being able to pass any damn Constitutional amendment they want. Will they start by outlawing all abortions? By formally legalizing discrimination against LGBT people? By legalizing slavery? Who knows? Stay tuned!
Could Defend Local devolve into something used for nefarious states-rights, “back of the bus, y’all” purposes? That’s certainly not the goal now, and if we get involved, we can make sure that never happens.
Many of us on the left are feeling paralyzed. There’s so much to do, and the right wing is attacking so many angles all at once, it can be hard to know where to start fighting back. Defend Local is one step on the path towards taking back local – and state – control. To again quote the website:
“When you voted for your mayor, commissioners, and council members, you voted for local problem-solvers. You know what’s best for our communities, not out-of-touch state legislators hundreds of miles away and shadowy special interests.
That’s why we’re calling on our state lawmakers to pledge not to pass any new laws that preempt local government from doing their job, or punish them for representing the values of our communities.”
Image found here.
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