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I believe that relevant and important political change can occur at the local, municipal level and I was joined in that belief on November 18th when municipal elected officials from 32 cities in 20 states met in Washington D.C. to declare:
We have gathered together to build a coalition of municipal elected officials dedicated to broadly-shared prosperity, equal justice under law, sustainable and livable cities, and good government that serves the public interest directly. To serve these ends, we hereby proclaim the founding of Local Progress: A national municipal policy network.
— November 18, 2012
I was selected to chair an executive board consisting of municipal elected officials Brad Lander (New York City), Wilson Goode Jr. (Philadelphia), Chuck Lesnick (Yonkers), Faith Winter (Westminster, CO), Julia Ross (St. Louis Park, MN) and Joe Moore (Chicago) as well as organizational leaders Andrew Friedman (Center for Popular Democracy) and Gloria Totten (Public Leadership Institute).
The idea for this new organization began for me when I sponsored and Council unanimously adopted Resolution 31337 which recognized the national grassroots citizen effort being made through the Occupy Movement to seek solutions for economically distressed Americans at the federal and local levels. I strongly felt that as elected representatives we had to address our nation’s growing disparity in wealth and income among its citizens by pursuing and passing legislation.
I believe that real solutions come about through a democratic, transparent and respectful process. No one city can solve our nation’s problems, but a network of municipal elected officials sharing information, practices and legislation, would allow us to strengthen the chances of success at the local level, while also increasing the likelihood of influencing state and national policies, to reverse the continuing concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.
This disparity is clearly shown in the following information: the richest 1 percent of Americans control 40 percent of the country’s wealth, own 50 percent of U.S.-owned stocks and bonds, and earn 24 percent of total income. The top 1 percent earns more than the bottom 40 percent of the population (and the richest 20 percent get more income than everyone else combined). In the aftermath of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, this tiny slice of the U.S. population controls more of its country’s money than it has since the 1920s.
As a result, our national and local economies have been stifled as we have seen huge cuts in programs designed to maintain infrastructure, provide basic health and safety services, and sustain local economies. These regressive policies do not happen by accident. They are reinforced by the growing influence of money in politics, through groups that work in a coordinated way to weaken health and safety regulations, roll back civil rights, lower taxes on moneyed interests, and demonize, privatize, and eliminate public programs and services.
These conditions will not change overnight, but fortunately, in many cities and towns across the country, progressives are working toward more broadly shared prosperity, smart and strong public services, equal justice under the law, sustainable and livable cities, and good government that serves the public interest effectively. Municipalities are a great place to advance these goals. To paraphrase what candidate Barak Obama said when he was running for President his first time, cities are the experimental labs of this country. They often break new ground in providing services.
Local Progress will allow councilmembers, like me, to share legislation that makes government more efficient in providing services and more responsive to all citizens regardless of the community they live in or their ethnicity. A cornucopia of legislation reflecting these values is in place across the country.
Living-wage laws ensure that public dollars don’t pay for poverty jobs, but instead advance opportunity. Cities are leading the effort to make sure that all workers can take paid sick days, instead of choosing between their jobs and their health. Inclusionary housing policies create affordable housing in diverse neighborhoods. Responsible banking acts make sure that banks use the people’s money to meet community needs. Local governments have rejected a supporting role enforcing cruel and ineffective enforcement-only immigration policy. Human rights ordinances help fulfill the promise of the civil rights movement. Municipal campaign finance reforms return government to the people.
I look forward to learning more from councilmembers in other cities, evaluating their best ideas and practices, and then introducing those that could most benefit Seattle.