On Tuesday, Mr. Trump appeared to back away from the strict climate-denier viewpoint embraced by many Republicans in an interview with The New York Times, saying that there was “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change. He also said he wanted to keep an “open mind” about whether to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, the main global climate change accord.
Mr. Trump’s opacity means it is unclear whether he will actually support policies to limit the effects of climate change after being sworn in as president in January. But officials from China, which has surpassed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas, have said they will move forward on climate policies without the Americans, if it comes to that.
The prospect of California’s elevated role on climate change is the latest sign of how this state, where Hillary Clinton defeated Mr. Trump by more than four million votes, is preparing to resist the policies of the incoming White House. State and city officials have already vowed to fight any attempt by Washington to crack down on undocumented immigrants; Los Angeles officials last week set aside $10 million to help fund the legal costs of residents facing deportation.
The environmental effort poses decided risks for this state. For one thing, Mr. Trump and Republicans have the power to undercut California’s climate policies. The Trump administration could reduce funds for the state’s vast research community — including two national laboratories — which has contributed a great deal to climate science and energy innovation, or effectively nullify state regulations on clean air emissions and automobile fuel standards.
“They could basically stop enforcement of the Clean Air Act and CO2 emissions,” said Hal Harvey, president of Energy Innovation, a policy research group in San Francisco. “That would affect California because it would constrain markets. It would make them fight political and legal battles rather than scientific and technological ones.”
Kathleen Webster lived on Forsyth Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 1970s, when her neighbors started organizing around Sara D. Roosevelt Park. Everything around it was boarded up and closed.
“This community got on bicycles, did a whistle campaign. They organized themselves to take the park back from pimps and drug dealers,” she says.
The police, and eventually the parks department, were more than happy to work closely with the community, Webster remembers. “At the time, they were happy actually to have anybody take it on, because nobody else wanted to be here,” she says. “As one person told me, a parks employee threw the keys at him for a back gate, and said ‘do you want to take care of this?’”
Take care of it they did, Webster and her neighbors. They focused their initial energies on one section of the narrow but long park and transformed it into the BRC Senior Center, which is now surrounded by the Elizabeth Hubbard Memorial Garden (named for one of the original volunteers). The site became the anchor to gradually wrest the park back to healthy, productive community use. Webster, who still lives in the neighborhood, became president of the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Community Coalition, which continues to organize around the park.
But times have changed. The Lower East Side is now one of the hottest real estate markets in Manhattan. Public assets, including parks, park buildings, former schools, library buildings whether they’re in use or not, community gardens and city-owned vacant lots are suddenly in the crosshairs of developers who once wouldn’t touch the neighborhood. Now the volunteers who worked to make the area safe are left wondering: How can they get the attention of public officials when people with deep pockets are drawing up plans and proposing shiny designs for repurposing public assets that seem otherwise underutilized?
“If you think of development as a race, with a starting line and a finish line, in too many communities, government starts at or slightly ahead of the starting line, the developer’s usually way down the road, and the communities aren’t even at the starting line,” says Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, the state chapter of the national civic engagement and government accountability organization.
Common Cause New York has been collaborating with the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center and 596 Acres on the NYCommons initiative to build a modern set of organizing tools to help grassroots groups compete with private real estate developers when it comes to determining the future of publicly owned assets across the city. One of those tools is a new online map and database of all the public assets that, while hard to define, essentially provide some type of potential real estate development opportunity — something a city agency could potentially sell or lease to someone else.
“The baseline thing we need to do is figure out what the set of things is that we’re trying to include in this conversation,” says attorney Paula Segal, founder of 596 Acres, which supports grassroots organizing around vacant publicly owned lots in NYC. “The truth is, we’re in a city, most of our infrastructure and our assets are shared — the subways, the roads, the sidewalks, the water, something like 30, 40 percent of all housing in the city is some form of cooperatively owned. The list goes on and on to the point where privately owned property can start to seem like the real outlier.”
“It seemed as if each one of these particular issues was being attacked as if it was a free-standing issue, and the people working on it were thinking of it as ‘this is a parks issue, this is a libraries issue,’” Lerner says. “We started thinking about the fact that all of these separate challenges had similar underlying policy issues that have to do with how does government think about commonly owned, shared assets.”
Residents were spending huge amounts of time and energy, often to no avail for some of these larger proposals and projects involving public assets.
Meanwhile, when it came to vacant lots, over nearly the same two-year period, grassroots groups in four of the five boroughs successfully organized around 36 former publicly owned vacant lots, which were officially declared permanent public parks at the end of 2015. 596 Acres supported 17 of those grassroots groups.
“We were able to get new parks created by getting people involved very early on before anybody talked about flipping anything in vacant, publicly owned real estate assets in their own neighborhoods, transforming them into community resources that maybe weren’t recognized as permanent when they were created, but they became permanent,” says Segal.
596 Acres has developed a number of tools and found or created resources specifically around city-owned vacant land, including its own online map and database, Living Lots NYC, that provides a useful platform for organizers to connect and maintain records of organizing activity around each lot. NYCommons hopes to create an expanded tool set to serve grassroots organizing around the broader universe of public assets in NYC.
They started by asking. NYCommons went to 10 neighborhoods over the spring and summer where they knew people were organizing. Lerner says they found “a tremendous amount of energy in all five boroughs” for sharing best practices and connecting with others doing similar work.
NYCommons picked three neighborhoods for pilots, and provided them documentation, workshop facilitation and other resources to begin developing a tool kit. Many resources already existed, thanks to groups like the Center for Urban Pedagogy or New Yorkers for Parks. The Sara D. Roosevelt Park Community Coalition was one of the pilot sites.
“Movement happens in funny ways, but the NYCommons materials were very helpful as a draft basis from which to go,” says Webster.
The coalition’s current focus is a former recreation center, currently used as a systemwide parks storage facility, smack dab in the middle of a well-used area of the park. “We’ve been having a conversation about this building since 1994,” says Webster.
The group had already successfully lobbied local Council Member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to earmark $1 million for renovations to the building, but the parks department has yet to propose a new purpose for the building. Webster credits NYCommons for helping get through this most recent round of community visioning for the site. Chin testified at a recent hearing that she supported one of the coalition’s ideas to turn the facility into a daytime drop-in center for the homeless.
Efforts by Webster and the other pilot sites around the city will continue to shape the final NYCommons tool kit and the online platform. Many sites already have data from recent years’ organizing efforts that need to be uploaded. The organizing track records themselves provide vital talking points for future hearings and op-eds and community meetings.
“There’s a real hunger for this in neighborhoods of all different backgrounds,” says Lerner. “Hopefully NYCommons can provide an entrée into a fairly sophisticated, experienced, citywide network of groups who are all thinking along the same lines, putting pressure on government to be responsive, with a similar vocabulary and set of expectations about public assets serving the public.”
Oscar is a Next City 2015-2016 equitable cities fellow. A New York City-based journalist with a background in global development and social enterprise, he has written about impact investing, microfinance, fair trade, entrepreneurship and more for publications such as Fast Company and NextBillion.net. He has a B.A. in Economics from Villanova University.
How has activism in Spain produced new political platforms that are victorious in municipal elections? Are there stories, lessons, methods or tools that can be shared or translated to other contexts? How might these support the growing movement in France?
CommonsPolis — a civil society initiative to create dialogue between progressive municipalist movements and city governments, and European citizens — held an encounter described as “a common space for exchange; cities in transition and citizen struggles” in Paris on November 24, 2016, at the offices of the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation (FPH) and with the collaboration of the Utopia Movement. Spanish activists from a variety of regions were invited to share with their French counterparts their recent experiences of entering the municipal public administrations, and their efforts to make the political process more participatory and inclusive for citizens. The event was held in Spanish (Castellano) and French, with simultaneous interpretation. I went along with Stacco Troncoso as observers from the P2P Foundation. We were invited to attend, listen, and share our P2P/Commons perspective about the coming political landscape.
The Spanish context was outlined in a handout offered at the event, which described the most significant breakthroughs of the last two years (2015-16). In May 2015, the new citizens’ coalitions which had emerged from the street-level movements were successful in a number of large municipal elections. The path of these citizens’ coalitions traces back to reactions against the failures of Spain’s post-Transition bipartisanism, and their victories indicate a shift in mindset, culture, and power. These new, municipalist “non-parties” are outgrowths of the 15Mindignado movement and “las mareas” (tides), citizens’ initiatives around housing, health, education, culture and urban ecology. They build on prior political traditions of self-management and governance, while also drawing influences from the de-growth, ecology and free/libre movements and applying mindful use of technology and media.
The event began with a brief introduction by Vladimir Ugarte, who described Commonspolis as a mixture of personal and professional developments. Sergi Escribano, originally from Spain, was living in France and observing the tremendous changes shaking up Spanish civil, and political, society. Meanwhile Vlad, originally from Uruguay, brought a Latin American perspective on the political environmental and cultural crisis worldwide. As they witnessed the local governance initiatives taking shape under a municipalist ethic in Spain, they decided to do something about it — but instead of writing a grand manifesto, they would first proceed by listening. This event was created in support of that intention, and to explore the question of how such a shift would scale or transfer to another context – how can the municipal experiences of Spanish activists help inform the next steps elsewhere, in France for example?
From bipartisanism to municipalism: Spain’s Political Landscape
We spent the day together in a clean, modern room with light wooden paneling and lots of windows facing an interior courtyard at the FPH offices. The atmosphere was friendly and familiar, and a number of people had either previously met or corresponded, so the morning started with upbeat conversation and coffee. The organizers called us to sit in a circle to begin, and for the next several hours, the story of the municipal victories in Spain unfolded.
Members ofBarcelona en Comú, Marea Atlántica and València en Comústarted by sharing their perspectives on what provoked the crisis and its reactions in Spain, and the relationships and patterns that they see emerging among the resulting different movements and parties.
A brief look at Spain’s most recent forty years set the context for the stories that would follow. The post-Franco years were marked by the rise and fall of Spanish bipartisanism. The power structures of the dictatorship were largely preserved in one of the two dominant political parties, Partido Popular or the People’s Party (PP), supported by old-guard power players and the Catholic church. Meanwhile, the more moderate and steadily center-leaning Partido Socialista Obrera Español (PSOE), the Socialist Worker’s Party, swiftly abandoned Marxism in the late 70s. In the early 2000s, Spain adopted the Euro with great expectations but, after a decade of speculative action, the quality of day to day life began to deteriorate. Prices went up, but salaries stayed flat. While neither party was solely to blame, neither was innocent. Corruption became more prevalent and obvious. Unprecedented construction speculation culminated in the devastating housing bubble, triggering “the crisis” marked by rising incidences of mortgage foreclosure and eviction, and rampant unemployment.
As we know, this political/economic crisis provoked a widespread activist reaction in Spain, beginning in 2011 with the eruption of the 15-M movement. Five years later, a large part of this activism has since moved indoors from the streets and squares to government posts, but this did not come easily. Power and influence struggles persist, both internally among activists with different missions, and as a by-product of the constraints felt in being a minority power. A relatively low number of seats in parliament poses an obvious disadvantage for those activists now working within government. Progress is often hamstrung by the institutional rigidity of government structures, not to say the baroque quality of Spanish law.
So, how did these activists manage to grab the power needed to break the bipartisan stranglehold? In 2014, 5 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) fromPodemoswere elected, evidence of a strong resistance to bipartisanism. The kind of changes Podemos triggered started on a local scale with municipal platforms, creating networks for every city to work for local change. These platforms are the “how”, but not the “who”, of change; it’s important to remember that any one party, Podemos included, is a part of the platform, and not the whole.
L-R: Vladimir Ugarte (Empodera), Laura Roth (BCN en Comú), Rafa Juan (València en Comú), Sergi Escribano (Empodera), Neus Fàbregas (València en Comú), Daniel Rodríguez (Marea Atlántica), Marcelo Expósito (BCN en Comú), Diego Jimenez (Marea Atlántica). See all participants here.
On the practical level, many people who felt indignation in response to the crisis indeed becameindignadas, activists not just in their own lives but also in electoral politics.“Las Mareas”, or the “tides”, are citizen-activist groups formed throughout Spain after 15M, each acting in a specific sector and often identified by color (green for education, white for health, etc.). Mainly, they help create or safeguard access to different public services hit by austerity policies. La Marea Atlántica, formed in 2014 in A Coruña, Galicia, was formed with another goal in sight. Building on a long tradition of local leftist politics, La Marea Atlántica intended to develop a participative municipal administration. They collected 2,500 signatures towards presenting candidates for city council and also mayor, the latter of which they won in the 2015 elections. There is a special cultural significance in this win: the mayor, Xulio Ferreiro, is the first in office who speaks the local language (Gallego).
As they describe themselves, La Marea Atlántica has several currents. They incorporate the ideals of 15M, but for the platform to be successful, they stress that everyone involved must work together. For example, the platform should not be considered as a projection of Podemos in particular, there are a number of parties represented. It’s a political space where many come together, what they call a “political proposal”.
Marea Atlántica’s online instruments have been created to enable all types of citizens’ participation. “Mareas abiertas” (open tides) is a key element: there are no party-imposed quotas, any individual can participate. The campaigns are completely self-financed. And they continue to develop more participatory, inclusive projects, such asCo-Lab. The website describes Co-Lab as “a recent social innovation project with a mission to improve quality of life for people and have a more egalitarian citizenship, through mechanisms of collaborative, open and re-usable knowledge production.”
But the truth is, they sometimes have difficulties in keeping it all up. The daily management is hard work, and it doesn’t sustain itself without a lot of input. Maintaining a high level of interest and engagement in people sometimes becomes challenging in the flow of action between activism and institutions, even when the processes are open and participatory.
Why have a such wide range and high number of people in Spain have turned to activism? Not long ago, many people were working hard just to pay the mortgage, only to see their job security and financial stability slip away. People started going “underwater” on their mortgages, and the ugly spectacle of police-enforced home evictions proved to be too much to bear without resistance by those affected and their friends, neighbors and communities. 2009 saw the beginning of thePlataforma de Afectados por la Hipotecaor (PAH) — Platform for People Affected by Mortgages — in Barcelona. Through civil disobedience and direct action, people take part in opposing evictions, often putting themselves physically between law enforcement and homeowners— the banks take the property, but the cops take the people.
PAH has successfully prevented well over one thousand such evictions. One of their founding members, Ada Colau, became a spokesperson ofBarcelona en Comú, and more recently was elected the mayor of Barcelona. Where 15M once had people in the streets and squares chanting “no nos representa”— “they don’t represent us” — now, in Ada Colau, they have a mayor who emerged from the movement itself. The “en Comú” movements in other cities including València are municipal platforms that have gathered a good deal of public interest and support. From the en comú movements in these two cities, Barcelona and Valencia, many reflections and indeed, even warnings were shared.
En Comú in València is a platform of the streets, now in the transition to electoral politics and campaigns. With its roots in street assemblies, food sovereignty campaigns and the student and housing movements, en Comú identified a shift: people moved toward thinking in terms of “ours”, rather than “mine”. They’ve also crowdfunded their own “improvised” campaign and gained 33 seats in the local parliament. But being in the minority, like La Marea, they’ve got a vertiginous climb ahead. With the political will to survive, the members of VEC stress that it’s worth the trouble of persisting. Although the process is full of problems, they’re committed to keeping on, moving forward, not losing hope. This is the moment for reality checks but also going back to the roots of the organization, to recuperate what people have in common while also confronting an administration that mainly seeks to take care of itself.
Barcelona en Comú are often asked to tell their story, and they do so “warts and all”, with all of the problems and challenges along with the successes. Yes,they did win in the Barcelona elections, but with 11 seats (out of 41) in city assembly, it’s clearly not enough to govern a city; the change is local and limited, for the moment. While they may form part of the government, the ongoing question is how to be part of a government that doesn’t want you to make changes. So, within the small space between simple legislation and doing nothing at all, BeC is attempting to do something differentwith the many limits and problems at the government level.
Through their organization’s creation and continued evolution, they have come to understand that the change in political discourse has taken place on both the right and the left. Extensive changes are occurring in traditional politics. The left, however, seems to communicate in abstracts, which creates rather than solves problems at the local level. People do not want abstract terms, they wantconcrete solutions. This must be discussed, but not in the accepted, unquestioned, persistent ways. Results should come by treating concrete problems, being realistic, and going through phases at the local level, growing real participation among people. The PAH platform, for example, has been built step by step, acknowledging every little victory that adds up to something (previously) unimaginable. And finding the appreciation for the small steps is part of the change.
Keenly aware of the masculine style of typical political discourse, along with its implications, the movements in Spain have been working to feminize the discourse and encourage more and better participation. Bringing others into the platforms depends on something mentioned multiple times: an ethical code, designed for open participation and the encouragement of real politics with people creating their own platforms – implementing radical democracy. Participatory conversation creates political change, and the feminization of politics is not only about the political work itself, it also means a change of style.
But these municipal platforms are not solely designed for local citizens; it was made clear, they must be part of a multi-level structure capable of operating at the national, and even transnational, levels. To make this happen, the municipal platforms must coordinate among themselves and beyond. They need to present viable political alternatives that channel the rising resistance to recent right-populist political developments such as Brexit and the election of Trump.
Crucially, each of these new municipalist coalitions has based their work on their“codigo etico”, the ethical codewhichshapes everything they do in the platforms, participation in institutions. This ethical code is developed from existing experiences, and acts as both the glue and the attractor for participants. Its main principles are:
No revolving doors (no cycling through public/private positions)
Open primaries — no party quotas, and open to anyone
Voluntary/citizen self-financing, and rejection of institutional or bank financing
Caveats and cautions were offered about the problems found in making municipal change. Hard limits, even something like a “glass ceiling”, were described. Some of this is surely due to the experimental nature of this new institutional style grating against the very durable, quintessentially neoliberal, crisis produced by the established political powers. Opposition is not easy, and neither have been these first moves from the streets into municipal chambers. They said it again and again: for all the progress made in Spain, there’s no formula for entering these institutions.
Winning is not the same as gaining power; to gain effective power takes a very empowered citizenship, and citizens are starved of power. Broadening citizen participation is obviously important, but this must be done within the local context, and will create something different in each location — so, again, “recipes” are impossible. While it’s true that the regime crisis has led to a growth in political and urban “lab” environments, making the leap into the municipal government is not simple, and successful attempts at change are slow and hard won. Even the new methodologies employed can cause problems.
Because of all this, thecodigo etico — code of ethics — was described as indispensable. New government is, as has been learned, not always an effective government, and political organizations can be prone to inter-faction disputes. Think inclusively — how might a single, immigrant mother of several children, for example, be encouraged or enabled to participate, and why? For a positive reception to some kind of marea social, or citizens’ tide movement, there must be real solutions and a clear path to participation or there will be no way out of the crisis.
With so much of what’s familiar and concrete being constructs of neoliberalism — business, management, government — the path towards reconstruction from the bottom is difficult, and more so with a repressive legislative architecture. On top of it all, there’s another difficulty. This hard, neoliberal Europe has also produced a rapidly rising, bottom-up, citizen-level force from the right which must be watched and considered closely.
But, what do the movements find when they ask the people what they want? The people are still outraged and anxious. They want assurances of security, to finally get out of the economic crisis. What happens when those who’ve moved into municipal government want rupture, but what the people want is restoration? People say they want to “go back to the way things were”, but not only is that impossible, things were not really so good — but memories are short. This is the key of the extreme right, this ideological message. What’s needed is more empathy.
In conclusion, those presenting from the various movements in Spain all shared that their processes have been a qualified nightmare at times, and that navigating through the crisis has been very hard. But at the heart there remains a source of hope and motivation– sí se puede.
Widening the Conversation
In several small, multi-lingual groups, we had some animated discussions about the enthusiasm, curiosity and doubts in reaction to the initial expositions. What clearly came across were ideas about promoting self-management, the need for exercising caution with the existing paternalism in society, and providing more visibility to self-management practices. People discussed encouraging social empowerment to correct, rather than tolerate, constant institutional blockages, as well as how to promote more social income and participatory budgeting.
Even with some notable differences in the French context, there is a clear need for municipal learning and “unlearning” within concrete, multi-scale, autonomous movements; a need to find ways to resolve the eventual failures, and to put forth proposals that people can use. Strengthening bottom-up narratives and nurturing inclusivity in political practices are fundamentals. Without this shift towards change that remains in service of the community, people will eventually lose confidence.
Instability fomented the change in the Spanish territory, and that original energy continued to provoke changes in the context of the social movements. A strong focus emerged, along with a greatly increased local participation. Investigations into the crisis — what caused it, how to address it — provided a springboard from which people began thinking and working collectively, always keeping those ethical codes in sight.
The trajectory of personal transformation can lead into a political one, and ideas turn to politics. But how would those in the French context follow the work done in the Spanish municipal arena? By introducing the virus of change into the institutions. Study the length of time before elections, and find a way to anticipate what will be needed, and communicate it. Work to avoid power struggles, and work to make those personal transformations integrate into the platforms. This includes feminization to induce noticeable differences in governance — it’s important to dismantle patriarchal constructs, i.e. the tendency for the loudest to be heard, and for the longest time. Oh, and another thing — resolve the tension between just talking to people about problems, and changing things so that communication becomes empowerment.
But what about the fact that people have long adopted completely neoliberal behaviour patterns, right from primary school — how is it possible to address these limitations?At this point,how many people outside of these specialized groups really know how to work in a participatory style anymore? The dialogue has been long lost, and must be recovered, including a change in values. The tension between power and counterpower has to be acknowledged, and differences between “collective” and “commons”, where the commons is a search for construction among people.
Later in the day, some more clues and tools came through from the activists from Spain in an additional round of group work, some more conceptual and some more concrete. Keeping up a good level of critique was cited as a key component, and to avoid forming “bubbles”. Sustainability, in the material sense, can mean using local and complementary currencies, or instigating more activities, rather than just talks — having more action take place in the communities (eg. garden cultivation and instructions). As far as inclusion, we need more work on “feminization”: get more women to participate, and change the grand-scale masculine logics and ideas for something more feminine, closer. Be inclusive of groups with fewer resources (eg, youth groups) and reach out to those former- or non-activists who feel excluded, cynical or disinterested. Make it all more open to the “others”, and work to maintain that level of inclusion.
Feminization, as it was described, can be a difficult, slow process of experimentation. Knowing this, it’s a good practice to create a protected environment for experimentation, and foster something slower but deeper. Create other forms of organization that are participatory from within the institutions: introduce techniques like speaking in turn, or request participants to give just one sentence, in quick rounds – things that encourage better participation. The goal is to break the usual tendencies for certain people to dominate and certain people to remain silent – time to shake up the comfort zone.
What about all the people who are used to just voting and dropping all the responsibility on the elected officials? And the question of enabling people’s capacities in the spirit of commons – how can this be done? With education, making every action more visible and creating spaces for discussion – actual, physical spaces. De-localize the decision-making within the platforms. Make proposals to the people, show them the ways to co-create communities using participatory principles, including codes of ethics. Someone could lead by example and propose a work group with specific rules and context, so everyone knows how to participate. Debate questions openly, eg. how to define the urban commons? Technical questions come up, and questions of tech, which is the means through which a large dominion of civic and political information is controlled. Think about how to make the technical solutions compatible with the political ones.
In the final afternoon discussions, there were several proposals following on the earlier dialogues. Why not hold the next European Commons Assembly in a “rebel” city, one undergoing commons-friendly changes, to see more potentially concrete changes and proposals in action. And with the EU elections coming in 2019, more work needs to be done within the commons political network, focusing on “free, fair, sustainable” principles with visible alliances around the different commons – knowledge, social justice, ecology, etc. It’s time to open some common spaces for action where people can learn to make, do and live differently, and discover how to exchange experiences around common development and management (“gestion en común”).
Change-making in France: a reaction
The question that was opened for exploration at the end of the day: exactly what aspects of the citizens’ platforms in Spain might be portable to France? Although it’s understood that the process and results are still in flux, there is ample space for change anda strong desire to experiment with what can be replicated at different scales. So, how to mobilize now – what kinds of tips and tricks might be viable in the French sociopolitical landscape?
In 2014, Spanish activists said “let’s take the city” – a seemingly impossible challenge. One year later, municipal elections were won by Ahora Madrid, and en Comú in Barcelona and València – and although these new parties and representatives may face hostility from inside, the spirit of“sí se puede”has been successfully validated and propagated. With a strong commons culture in France, the possibilities are wide open. How to organize and mobilize? The advice offered was: organize for what already exists, don’t over-politicize, keep to the needs of people in the communities, and work up from small steps.
While there are apparent cultural differences in the French and Spanish contexts, some form of “viral” idea sharing could promote a cultural change towards more widespread citizen engagement, particularly in municipal politics. In Spain, people organized in and from the public squares, where in France this kind of expanded organization may not yet have taken root fully — althoughNuit de bot certainly offers us a good view on how it could develop — but, that said, it was acknowledged that a movement has beenborn in France with roots in an economic crisis, even if different from that in Spain. For a young person, joining Uber is a lot cheaper and faster than obtaining a taxi license, but this easy entry could have a high cost in eventual precarity.
Conclusions. Where do we go from here?
All the municipalist players from the Spanish territory are working multi-scale (local, national, regional, and now in international dialogues). The coalitions are non-partisan, though inclusive of established political parties. They all want to end the isolation presently perceived at the city level, merging more towards an ideal of the “networked rebel cities”. Overall, the key point made for the French activists was the need to create and implement a common ethical code for participation. Meetings such as this one should obviously evolve to be more diverse and representative of the public at large, as the movements themselves are. As the meeting drew to a close, it was noted pretty bluntly– if we don’t get our shit together, the far right will, in terms of gathering massive support by addressing the concrete needs of people.
As commoners and activists concerned about caring for our neighbours and the environments which sustain us, the responsibility falls on all of us, beyond Spain, beyond France. We are the stewards of change, and this change needs to go beyond boundaries to engage real needs with viable, common-sense solutions. The community empowerment, network logics and feminization of politics displayed by municipalist platforms such as València en Comú, Marea Atlántica and Barcelona en Comú could inspire new bottom-up electoral coalitions in surprisingly different contexts. Let’s spread the word and show the world what happens when concerned citizens decide to take the power back.
The municipalist movements of the Spanish state can’t ignore the global crisis of neoliberalism. It’s up to us to stand up and defend our idea of bottom up, feminist and radically democratic change.
The ‘municipal assault’ that’s been launched in many cities in the Spanish state over the past two years has been dizzying. Neighbourhood assemblies. Electoral programmes. Codes of ethics. Party negotiations. Crowdfunding. Electoral campaigns. Coalition deals. Offices. The streets. Administration. Achievements. Contradictions. Mistakes. Lessons learned. It would be easy to get absorbed in the daily victories and defeats if it weren’t for the turbulent global context in which we live. The Umbrella Revolution. Oxi. Refuggees. Nuit Debout. Brexit. Dilma Rousseff. The peace deal in Colombia. Trump. Le Pen. As urgent as the everyday tasks in our neighbourhoods may be, the municipal movement has the responsibility to reflect on our role beyond our cities and the borders of the state.
Within a few weeks of Trump’s victory, mayors of big “sanctuary cities” throughout America, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles declared that they wouldn’t collaborate with a Trump administration order to deport peaceful, law-abiding resident. Trump is now threatening that he will deny these cities federal funding unless they comply. The amount of money that cities could be denied by the Trump administration isn’t entirely clear, but Mother Jones estimates that Washington DC could potentially lose up to 25% of its budget, New York and San Francisco could lose 10% and Los Angeles could lose 2%.
If cities want to have a leg to stand on during their negotiations with the Trump administration, they must prepare to operate without federal funding. If there is one message US cities need to convey to Trump, it’s that they can turn Trump’s belligerence into the political will they need to make municipal government more efficient, transparent and participatory than the Federal government; and in the process restructure the relationship between municipalities and nations. Trump and his supporters must realize that the more pressure the Federal government puts on cities, the more cities will unite together, and the faster an emergent, post-nation-state paradigm will emerge. If In short, if Trump doesn’t play his cards right, he could very well become the president that undermines the role of the nation-state in global affairs and kicks off a new version of the “devolution revolution“, but this time based in cities and inspired by progressive values.
Municipal governments will not be able to fend off the federal government if their bureaucracies are inefficient and unpopular with the public. Most municipal bureaucracies were designed in an era of switchboards and memos and need a significant upgrade. Is there really any doubt that new systems designed around smart phones and open source software couldn’t out perform the many-decades-old legacy systems most cities currently use by significant margins? The factor limiting the upgrading of municipal bureaucracies are political, not technological. Changing how government works involves shifting the balance of power within agencies, department and groups. These types of changes require tremendous amounts of buy-in from members of the bureaucracy and the public in general. This buy-in is hard to get, but with the nightmare of Trump using federal funds as leverage to coerce cities to adopt policies their residents abhor, it will become much easier to make the case that municipalities must engage in serious internal reform.
The choice for city residents should be clear: adopt 21st century technologies and organizational forms, or submitting to federal coercion. If current city leaders can’t or won’t execute the reforms needed to wean their cities off federal funds, then new leaders need to be brought in who will. Instead of talking about it — let’s build it. For our cities. And now. As if the lives of our neighbors depends on it. Because it might.
Existing models show us how we can systematically transforming government agencies through the adoption and use of inexpensive open source tools and techniques. One group that performs this type of activity is 18F, a unit within the Federal Government’s General Services Administration. 18F helps federal agencies figure out how to improve their operations using open source technology and iterative development processes. They’ve been extremely successful, to the point where government contractors lodged an official complaint that 18F was hurting their businesses because they were saving the Federal government too much money. 18F’s is small group in a massive federal government so their impact is limited, but their model is spreading. The Pentagon’s Defense Digital Services and the White Houses US Digital Service both model themselves off of 18F. City governments could and should create similar types of Digital Service Organizations (DSOs) as a means of increasing their ability to not only do more with less, but also as a means of challenging the Trump administration’s competence.
One of the innovative features of DSOs is their commitments to clear documentation of business processes and utilization of open source software. This allows them to share the innovations they develop for one agency with other agencies within that government (and ideally with other governments around the world.) This eliminates complex procurement processes, reduces costs and even creates an opportunity for highly skilled developers outside government to contribute to their effort. Since the solutions DSOs create are often open source, they can (and do) set up bounty systems that allow software developers to submit code that solve problems identified by the DSO. Allowing highly skilled urban residents to contribute code to a project that improves a city’s effectiveness if precisely the type of deep contribution city residents should be able to make to defend their cities from federal coercion.
There are existing “civic tech” volunteer groups in cities all around the country filled with people passionate about finding ways to help city governments run faster, better and cheaper. A great example is NYC’s BetaNYC group. These groups present fantastic venues for sourcing and organizing volunteers that can amplify and support the work of DSOs to help make cities more resilient to federal coercion. But technology is just one area. Cities will need to build many more mechanisms that can convert their resident’s anger at Federal policies into surges of local volunteer-ship that increase the capability of city governments and reduce their need for federal aid.
If cities can find more effective ways to mobilize their massive human resources, then the era of Trump will be a catalyst pushing cities to be more efficient, autonomous and globally networked than ever before. This might sound like overkill, or too much work, but we have to be prepared if we want to defend ourselves and our neighbors from destructive federal actions. And if it turns out we overreacted and mistakenly volunteered to improve our cities, so it goes.
President-elect Donald Trump still has about two months to go before he is inaugurated, but pockets of resistance to his mass immigrant deportation plan are already emerging across the country. Since his election, local officials in at least 18 major “sanctuary” cities have pledged to limit their cooperation with federal immigration officials. By one estimate, 12 of these cities account for roughly 20 percent of all undocumented immigrants in the United States.
“We have been and always will be a city of refuge, a city of sanctuary, a city of love,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
There are at least 364 counties that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities, including 39 cities. For years, these sanctuary cities have resisted federal deportation efforts in different ways. Some jurisdictions have policies that prevent police officers from inquiring into the immigration status of residents; in other locales, jails have refused to comply with requests from the feds to hold suspected undocumented immigrants past their scheduled release dates. Immigration advocates argue that that these tactics encourage immigrants in their communities to report crimes or cooperate with police investigations.
But critics of sanctuary cities, like Trump, say these policies run contrary to federal immigration law and risk releasing criminals onto the streets. In fact, the term “sanctuary city” has become so politicized that many jurisdictions have hesitated to accept the label. (It is worth noting that evidence suggests sanctuary cities are actually safer for local residents.)
Trump has vowed to stomp out such local resistance by cutting off federal funding to any sanctuary city. That would mean that in a worst-case scenario, these jurisdictions risk losing anywhere between 1 percent and 25 percent of their total city budgets, depending on how much they rely on federal funds. However, a Trump administration may decide not to withhold all that funding. The Los Angeles Times reported that Trump’s advisors are considering specifically targeting law enforcement funding.
Here are some of the metros that have renewed their resistance to federal deportation efforts since the election—in order of what percent of their budgets they stand to lose if Trump stays true to his threats:
DC risks more of its budget than any other jurisdiction on this list. A week after Trump’s election, Mayor Muriel Bowser reaffirmed that DC would remain a sanctuary city by keeping in place its policy of preventing city employees and police officers from asking residents about their immigration status. DC also grants driver’s licenses and other benefits to undocumented immigrants.
At risk: More than 10 percent of the city budget, amounting to about $1 billion total.
San Francisco has put in place some of the most expansive sanctuary city laws in the country. In fact, the city has been at the center of the sanctuary city debate ever since 2015, when a young woman was killed by an undocumented Mexican immigrant who had reportedly been deported five times and had just been released from the sheriff department’s custody. Trump repeatedly drew attention to the case during his campaign. After Trump’s election, Mayor Ed Lee and the school district and sheriff’s office, among others, pledged to abide by San Francisco’s current policies. “We have been and always will be a city of refuge, a city of sanctuary, a city of love,” Lee said. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the city attorney is looking into the possibility of suing the federal government should it withhold funds.
At risk: At least 10 percent of the city budget, totaling more than $1 billion.
According to the Chicago Tribune, should Trump choose to target law enforcement funding, the city could stand to lose nearly $29 million per year in justice grants. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed that Chicago “always will be a sanctuary city.” He added, “To all those who are, after Tuesday’s election, very nervous and filled with anxiety as we’ve spoken to, you are safe in Chicago, you are secure in Chicago, and you are supported in Chicago.”
Providence, Rhode Island
At risk: Approximately 10 percent of the city budget, amounting to $71 million last year.
Providence does not refer undocumented immigrants charged with low-level civil infractions to federal immigration authorities. Mayor Jorge Elorza, the son of Guatemalan immigrants, does not consider Providence a sanctuary city, but he did declare in a statement, “We are standing with cities like Los Angeles and New York City who have made it clear that we will not sacrifice a single resident and we will continue to protect our communities.” He added, “It is important that every resident can live their lives without fear of being persecuted.”
At risk: About 9 percent of the city budget in 2015, or more than $175 million.
Justice Department funding, the most vulnerable to attack, amounted to about $5.4 million last year. The Denver Police Department released a statement in the wake of Trump’s election saying it does not plan to participate in federal immigration enforcement.
At risk: About 9 percent of the city budget, totaling just over $7 billion.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has called Trump’s threats against so-called sanctuary cities “dangerous.” He said, “We are not going to sacrifice a half million people who live among us, who are part of our community. We are not going to tear families apart.” Should Trump choose to target law enforcement funding, the city’s police department budget is less vulnerable than the overall city budget. Just over 3 percent, or $185 million, of the police budget comes from federal aid.
At risk: About 8 percent of the city’s budget, or more than $216 million
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reaffirmed that the city police will continue its policy of not asking about a person’s immigration status, stipulating that she considers Baltimore a “welcoming city” but not a “sanctuary city.”
At risk: A rough estimate suggests that at least 4 percent of the city’s funds, or $52 million. (The Oakland City Administrator’s Office did not respond to our request for a specific breakdown of the budget.)
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf wrote in an op-ed that Oakland will “proudly stand as a sanctuary city—protecting our residents from what we deem unjust federal immigration laws.”
At risk: 2 percent of the city budget—more than $25 million.
The police department stands to lose about $2.1 million in federal funding, or about 1.4 percent of its budget. Responding to Trump budget threats, Mayor Betsy Hodges said, “In his quest to scapegoat immigrants, Donald Trump has threatened cities’ federal funding if we do not change this practice. I repeat: I will continue to stand by and fight for immigrants in Minneapolis regardless of President-elect Trump’s threats.”
At risk: About 2 percent of the city’s budget, or $507 million.
This year, Los Angeles is expected to receive $127 million in federal law enforcement grants. LA became one of the country’s first sanctuary cities, if not the first, back in 1979. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck declared that his department will not “engage in law enforcement activities solely based on somebody’s immigration status.”
Santa Fe, New Mexico
At risk: About 2 percent of the city’s annual budget, or about $6 million in federal funding.
The city’s police department relies on federal funding for just 0.25 percent of its budget, or about $62,000. Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales vocally denounced Trump’s proposed policy toward sanctuary cities on Fox and CNN, earning him the title of the latest “public face of ‘sanctuary cities.’” He called Trump funding threats “dangerous.”
Aurora, Colorado, and Seattle:
At risk: About 1.8 percent of each city’s total budget and 2 to 3 percent of Seattle’s police budget.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said that standing by his city’s policies is “the most American thing we could possibly do.”
At risk: Up to 1.3 percent of its total budget and up to 2 percent of its police budget.
Portland Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler said, “We’re saying that we’re willing to sacrifice those dollars and we are willing to live with whatever consequences may come our way.”
Other cities that have vowed to restrict their participation in Trump’s mass deportation plan include Philadelphia, Boston, Newark, and Austin.
Jim Wheeler represents Gardnerville, a little town of 5,600 people about a half-hour east of Lake Tahoe, in the Nevada Assembly. Last fall, he gained instant national notoriety when a video surfaced in which he said he would vote to support slavery if that’s what his constituents wanted. He was roundly criticized by media outlets both national and local, as well as leaders of his own party. Wheeler soon apologized.
But some of his other remarks on the tape triggered nearly as great a reaction, at least in Nevada. He suggested that Clark County in the southeast corner of the state—home to Las Vegas and 73 percent of Nevada’s entire population—should be split off from the state. “This is the biggest divide in the state, North and South,” Wheeler said. “Las Vegas wants everything, and they don’t care about the rurals.”
Ever since, legislators from southern Nevada have vowed to take revenge, strategizing about how they can get a larger share of state resources. It should be a snap. “Southern Nevada has had a majority of the legislators and now has a supermajority,” says Jon Ralston, a prominent commentator on Nevada politics. “If the delegation [could] stick together, they could get anything they want.”
Cities around the world face the effects of climate change and wealth inequality. To address these pressing, global issues many mayors are stepping up as powerful, and vital, voices for creating low carbon, healthy cities that address climate as well as social issues.
At the recent C40 Mayor’s Summit in Ciudad de México, which was the largest group of local leaders fighting climate change since COP21 in Paris, mayors gathered to advance a shared agenda, share knowledge, and increase the visibility of climate solutions in cities.