When the federal government shut down this month, Senator Bernie Sanders took to Facebook to decry the disruption and explain its causes. He explicitly denounced the desire of GOP leaders and their wealthy donors to see Washington, DC, mired in dysfunction.
“[The government shutdown], in my view, is part of a long-term plan to have people lose faith in the ability of government to respond to their needs,” he said. “These Republican leaders want a government run by billionaires and for billionaires, not for and by the American people. This government shutdown I don’t think is an accident.”
This and other shutdowns, he explained, are the fruit of a long-term anti-government agenda backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and their ilk. And that agenda has made unfortunate progress in recent years, seeping from the confines of the capitol into the hearts and minds of people throughout the land. According to the Pew Research Center, there is a crisis of faith in America’s public institutions today. Presently, only 18 percent of Americans say they trust our federal government to do what is right all or most of the time. That’s an historically low level, and a deeply ominous sign for the future of this country.
The question is: How do we rebuild confidence in our degraded democratic system? It will be a long, hard slog, and honest national politicians like Sanders will play a crucial part. But they can’t do it alone.
One place to look for models of effective government is in the local sphere—cities, counties, school boards, and the like. With their close proximity to the populace, their intimate involvement in everyday life, cities are in an unparalleled position to prove that government can still respond to people’s needs and dreams. And many have been doing just that.
This last month alone, while the federal government was teetering on the brink of shutdown, activists and leaders in cities across the country—from New York to Seattle, Oakland to Philadelphia to Washington, DC—were busy redoubling their efforts to fight for environmental sanity, fair elections, immigrant rights and other crucial matters. These interventions will make a real difference in the lives of local residents, but just as important, they prove a point: government doesn’t have to be dysfunctional. Public institutions, though imperfect, can still help us, protect us, and earn our trust.
New York to Big Oil and Opioid Profiteers: See You in Court!
In a momentous public announcement on January 10, Mayor Bill de Blasio committed this country’s largest city to a political and financial crusade against the fossil-fuel industry. Flanked by fellow officials and climate activists, de Blasio told the world that New York will divest roughly $5 billion in pension fund money from holdings in oil, gas, coal, and other dirty-energy assets. What’s more, the city is now pursuing legal action against five of the world’s largest oil and gas companies—Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell—for their role in covering up the dangers of carbon pollution.