This country’s problems, everyone knows, started long before Trump and will outlast him too. In the United States, in 2016, before our current president took office, police killed at least 309 black people in cities across the country, the Mapping Police Violence project has reported. During the final fiscal year of President Obama’s tenure, federal enforcers deported more than 240,000 undocumented immigrants. A report out last year by the economist Thomas Piketty and his colleagues showed that US income inequality has continued to grow more severe. Private health care in this country is a laughingstock, and will get much worse if the GOP has its way. Our national parks are in disrepair, and our roads and bridges and highways are falling apart. We’re in the midst of a mass-extinction crisis. We’re at war. Climate change has arrived.
All of these are long-accruing, generational crises. They can’t be blamed on a single administration, no matter how violent and vile, no matter how racist and reactionary. Folks understand that fact. They act on it. And in the last month, as in the many months before, they have been busy, busy, busy: In small cities and huge metropolitan centers, in the heartland and the high plains and beyond, good people have mobilized against ongoing police violence, resisted the deportation state’s creeping authoritarianism, organized against plutocratic tax policies, and launched electoral campaigns with bold and radical platforms, among other promising progressive developments. These are people who, at this very moment, are working to clean up the systemic corruption that has beset us, and of which Trump is just a particularly grotesque consequence. Even last week’s sordid Scaramucci burlesque couldn’t distract them.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of Minneapolis on July 20 and 21 to rally, march, and protest against the killing of Justine Damond, who was shot in her pajamas after calling 911 earlier this month to report a possible rape. As the protesters marched, they called for justice for the multiple victims of Minnesota police violence.
Damond, a 40-year-old yoga teacher from Australia, is only the latest victim in a disgraceful catalog of police killings in and around the city in recent years. Exactly a year and a week before Damond’s murder, local police shot and killed Philando Castile, 32, a beloved figure at the elementary school where he worked, after they pulled him over as he returned home from grocery shopping. Police killed Jamar Clark, 24, in November 2015. In both Castile’s and Clark’s cases, the officers who pulled the triggers were not convicted of any crimes. No one was held accountable.
That could be changing, however. On the second day of protests against Damond’s murder, people blocked off a downtown light-rail station and then flooded into City Hall. When they arrived, Mayor Betsy Hodges was holding a press conference announcing the resignation of Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau.
The chief’s decision to step down, spurred as it was by potent public outrage, may not be enough. As the mayor made the announcement, indignant residents and organizers interrupted her. “We don’t want you as our mayor of Minneapolis anymore,” said activist John Thompson, a friend of Castile’s, according to The Washington Post. “We ask that you take your staff with you. We don’t want you to appoint anyone anymore.”
As cries of “bye-bye Betsy” filled the room, the mayor cut the press conference short.
Seattle’s Trump Card
With excited onlookers holdings signs that read “Tax the Rich,” the Seattle City Council voted unanimously on July 10 to levy an income tax on the municipality’s wealthiest residents.
“Today our progressive city is boldly taking on our state’s deeply regressive tax structure—one that’s both unsustainable and unjust,” wrote Mayor Ed Murray on Twitter on the night of the vote.
Seattle’s decision to implement an income tax makes it the first jurisdiction in Washington to do so. No other city in the state, nor the state government itself, collects an income tax, making Washington’s one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation.
The new measure, which grew out of a grassroots campaign called “Trump-Proof Seattle,” will impose a 2.25 percent tax on individual incomes above $250,000 a year. It will also apply to married couples in the city making more than $500,000 a year. The tax is expected to boost Seattle’s budget by roughly $140 million a year, helping offset any financial harm that the Trump administration’s austerity agenda inflicts on the city.
Revenge of the Backpackers
For years, the state of Utah has led a right-wing assault on our federal lands, trying to roll back conservation protections and undermine public control over national forests, national monuments, wildlife refuges, and more. Among other priorities, the state government, as well as Utah’s congressional delegation, backed by dark-money groups tied to the Koch brothers, have sought to transfer millions of acres of federal land to the control of reactionary state and local governments across the West and open up these lands to increased oil and gas drilling. Their aim: to fundamentally weaken, if not destroy, one of this country’s greatest experiments in social democracy—namely, the 600 million acres of public land that belong to all of us and are managed on our behalf by the federal government.
Utah, however, is about to suffer for its plutocratic anti-public-lands agenda. On July 6, the massive outdoor-industry trade show Outdoor Retailer, which for years has hosted its twice-annual event in Salt Lake City, announced officially that it was relocating to Denver, Colorado. The show, which features products from companies like Patagonia, REI, and North Face, decided to leave Salt Lake City for one simple and very sensible reason: It opposes the state’s anti-conservation crusade.
In a statement released earlier this year, in which it previewed its intention to relocate, Outdoor Retailer explicitly tied its move to the “long history of anti-public land sentiment and action stemming from Utah’s state and congressional officials.”
Outdoor Retailer’s decision to make Denver its new home will bring Colorado (and cost Utah) roughly 85,000 visitors and $110 million a year in economic activity. The move, meanwhile, comes as conservation groups and public-lands enthusiasts across the country continue to rally, protest, and otherwise resist the reactionary campaign against public lands and conservation laws, including the Trump administration’s ongoing attempt to gut the Antiquities Act.
Icing Out ICE
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has inspired fear in immigrant communities for a long time, threatening deportation and, all too often, acting on it. “But,” says Rebecca Kaplan, a City Council member in Oakland, California, “the degree to which they are explicitly being used to go after people who aren’t accused of any crime is way over the top now. They are being used as a tool of intimidation and fear.”
Particularly egregious, Kaplan says, are incidents of ICE officers going to schools to arrest people as they drop their kids off, or to courts to sweep up undocumented immigrants offering testimony or standing trial.
“This is a real threat to people’s safety, the behavior ICE is engaged in,” she adds. “It is important to make clear to the community that we will not collude in that.”
On July 18, the Oakland City Council decided it would collude with ICE no longer when it passed legislation authored by Kaplan that officially cut the municipality’s ties with the federal deportation agency. The resolution terminated a memorandum of understanding the city made with ICE in 2016, during the Obama years, that enabled some local officers to cooperate with ICE agents operating in the area. The decision was meant to reinforce and strengthen Oakland’s commitment to being a sanctuary city.
And Oakland has company. Harris County, Texas, home of Houston, stopped cooperating with ICE in February in response to Trump’s amped-up attacks on immigrants. In March, Los Angeles barred its airport and port police from inquiring about peoples’ immigration status.
All Progress Is Local
More than 130 local elected officials from around the country arrived in Austin, Texas, in late July for the annual gathering of Local Progress, a nationwide network of progressive council members, mayors, and more that pushes for “a strong economy, equal justice, livable cities and effective government.” Larry Krasner, the civil-rights attorney running to be Philadelphia’s next district attorney, was there. So was Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, the young leftist member of Chicago’s City Council. Tishaura Jones, the St. Louis treasurer who ran a bold campaign to be the city’s mayor last fall, attended, as did Greg Casar, the Austin city councilman who has led the fight against Texas’s vicious anti-immigrant law SB 4. And there were many others as well—officials from Berkeley to Denver, from Indianapolis to Albany, from Flagstaff to Tacoma to Kansas City.
They came for panels and workshops and meetings on a range of topics, including discussions about strategies to resist Trump’s Department of Justice, fight back against right-wing preemption laws, and build renewable-energy infrastructure at the local level. They also came to protest. During the first day of the gathering, attendees marched to the Texas State Capitol to rally against SB 4, which imposes harsh penalties on cities and local officials that refuse to collaborate with federal immigration law enforcement in the state. Austin, among other Texas cities, has sued to overturn the law.
“Austin is the heart of the battle against SB 4,” says Helen Gym, vice chair of Local Progress and a Philadelphia City Council member. “We decided to gather in Austin just for that reason, because the city itself is a great example of a municipality rising to this political moment, coming up with smart strategies and responding to the needs of its community.”
Thinking Locally, Acting Statewide
Gayle McLaughlin led something of a revolution in the small, Bay Area city of Richmond, California. First elected to the mayor’s office there in 2006, McLaughlin and her leftist political organization the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) transformed the city from a de facto company town dominated by the local Chevron refinery into a leading example of the power of progressive municipal politics. Over the last decade, the RPA defeated Chevron-backed candidates at the ballot box, implemented a $15 dollar minimum wage, fought foreclosures during the financial crisis, and, most recently, in 2016, passed the first rent-control law in California in years, among other achievements. The story of this grassroots political movement is one of the gems of the progressive urban renaissance.
Now McLaughlin wants to take RPA’s model and message statewide by becoming California’s next lieutenant governor. On July 18, she stepped down from her seat on the Richmond City Council and embarked on a multi-week tour of Southern California, visiting local progressive groups and rallying them behind her. Unaffiliated with any political party and vociferously supportive of single-payer health care, sanctuary-city policies, and free public college, among other issues, McLaughlin’s campaign hopes to draw on the Sanders-inspired enthusiasm for social democracy that has electrified leftists across the country. The election will take place in 2018.
“This campaign will give me a larger stage and a louder megaphone to get out the message about building local political power,” says McLaughlin. “That is the core message of my campaign: Build local political power in your cities and communities, like the RPA did in Richmond. If we could do it there, if we could get Chevron off our back, we can do it anywhere.”