To Resist Nationally, Build on Local Activism

01/27/2017 05:25 pm ET Updated Apr 15, 2017

With the new Trump administration and Republicans now dominating Washington, the challenges ahead – from a proposed Muslim registry to confrontations over women’s health – will pit the federal government against progressive, and even centrist-minded, citizens across the country. Trump’s totalitarian posturing has awakened the general citizenship, but the wide-breadth of attacks requires a strategy to fight a number of fronts at the same time, across the country. As the dynamic of federal-state conflict flips on its head, progressives need to capitalize on local political spaces to build opposition in order to strengthen resistance nationwide.

So why local? First, local compliance will be the testing ground for implementing the Trump agenda. Second, a network of local elected officials have positioned themselves as bulwarks against proposed policies. And third, the local space allows for tangible participation that may better empower people to remain engaged across multiple issues. Sustained local activism will serve as the building blocks for a stronger national resistance.

Local jurisdictions, including cities and states, will be testing grounds for two types of encroachment by the federal government under Trump. The first set of encroachments will be federal efforts that violate civil rights – freedom of speech, unlawful search and seizure, religious discrimination. And the second will be federal pressure to comply with new policies that undo gains on citizens’ health and welfare, such as gutting environmental regulation, gun control, or healthcare. In his first week, Trump has threatened to “send in the feds” to Chicago, already directly challenging local authority.

When this happens, we cannot look to Washington for protection. Republican strategy, from delaying Obama’s supreme court nomination to the ongoing confirmation hearings, has left Democrats constantly playing catch up. They have also failed to show a unified, committed opposition to the new administration. Even with a loss to Donald Trump, in-fighting continues between the neoliberal wing of the party and the growing progressive wing, as seen in the debate about the upcoming DNC Chair election. And, the same Democrats who position themselves as leaders against Trump are voting for his cabinet appointees one after the other.

Throughout the campaign and after the election, a number of leaders at state and city level have shown a willingness to confront proposed Trump policies. California’s leaders have been outspoken against the new administration, even having hired former federal attorney general Eric Holder on retainer in anticipation of legal battles with the federal government. Just yesterday, Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh spoke out against Trump’s executive order on immigration. At this point, our local leaders are better positioned to resist the emerging Washington agenda. But citizens also have better leverage at the local level, and can demonstrate more immediate impact if our leaders begin to backtrack.

Most importantly, local-level activism is the best approach to harness the huge growth in political activism nationwide. The citizens of this country have led the opposition to the incoming Trump administration. From tech workers in Silicon Valley vowing not to build a Muslim registry to national park service employees creating rogue Twitter accounts, we have seen citizens using their personal leverage to contribute to a resistance. Many joined marches across this country, and world, to say we are watching and we will resist. Now, we have to strengthen the foundations of resistance by identifying our roles and connecting to the existing and growing activism in our communities.

As we strengthen local organizing, we’ll need to fortify nationally through networks across cities and states, possibly through civic coordinating committees. We already have strong community leaders across the country, social media organizing, and synergies between institutional leaders, such as Human Rights Watch and Southern Poverty Law Center creating an app to report and track hate crimes. While maintaining multi-issue movements nationwide will hit roadblocks, there is a heightened level of engagement, leaders of activism on different issues working together, and tools that allow for building a flexible resistance.

It may seem that focusing on the local means turning our backs on our responsibility to the global community, with Trump already rejecting the needs of refugees and attacking women’s health overseas. But we need to strengthen the backbone of a national movement in order to have a louder voice in traditionally D.C. territory, such as foreign policy.

Activism at city and state level has helped push a number of issues up the national agenda, from marriage equality to the Fight for $15. But imagine it’s six months from now and Trump is federalizing the National Guard to seek out undocumented migrants in New York City, San Francisco, and cities across America. Or he has imposed a media blackout on White House activities and Republicans are supporting his purge of journalists from government spaces. We will need allies in Washington to stand with us, but if we want to have a chance in fighting for human rights and civil liberties, we need to harness local mechanisms for progressive change and build a network of resistance to respond to the challenges ahead.

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