Ever since the early hours of November 9, 2016, an old English word with Greek roots has been seeping back into circulation. The word, kakistocracy, means “a government by the worst people,” and it has struck such a resonant chord that, on June 29, it was the top trending word on Merriam-Webster.com. The immediate cause was a tweet by Joy Reid, but the truth is that it might have happened any day for any of a thousand reasons during the past eight months. The worst people really are full of passionate intensity—and just this past month alone, they managed to fire off a cluster bomb of abominable policies: pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, implementing a Muslim ban (no matter how “partial” or temporary), shelling Syrian civilians, rewinding the clock on Cuba, and plotting to deny health care to 22 million Americans. And that’s just a starter list.
Still: Hope is not entirely lost. In fact, hope, in the form of active resistance is alive and thriving all over the globe—nowhere, perhaps, more so than in the cities and towns where restless souls congregate. From fossil-fuel and private-prison divestment drives to anti-austerity protests and experiments in clean-energy production, urban areas have been busy building visionary movements and making humane policy. When Trump announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris accord on June 1, it was cities—more than 300 of them—that stepped up to declare that they would uphold this country’s commitments to the climate goals.
Kakistocracies don’t fall in a day, and real democracies don’t rise in a year. But in the last month, cities have continued the hard work of loosening the right’s grip on power and building a future that isn’t so goddamn gloomy.
What follows in this month’s “Dispatch from the Urban Resistance” is a sampling of some of that work.
Cities of the World, Unite!
Local organizing is fascism’s foe. That was one of the essential themes beaming out of Barcelona this month, where hundreds of urban organizers and elected officials met for a three-day summit called Fearless Cities. They came from Hong Kong and Rojava, from Valparaiso in Chile and Belo Horizonte in Brazil, from New York City and Jackson, Mississippi, and far beyond to teach and learn and build an international municipalist movement: a movement, that is, that harnesses civil society in cities to revitalize democracy and empower youth, immigrants, refugees, working people, and many, many more.
The conference was organized by Barcelona en Comú, the leftist political coalition that took power in the city in 2015. It included sessions on participatory budgeting, sanctuary and refuge cities, “deprivatization” of energy and water systems, the radical potential of public space, and the fight against gentrification, among other topics.
For those who attended, Fearless Cities was an introduction to the “global movement that is trying to find energy and power in municipalism and in local fights,” says Helen Gym, a Philadelphia City Council member and the vice chair of Local Progress who spoke at the summit. “It was so exciting to be with progressive municipal leaders from all around the world pushing back against state authoritarianism, fighting for the rights of immigrants and refugees, tackling racial justice issues and talking about the essential services like health care, education and transit.”