As the Democratic National Convention ramps up in Philadelphia, some themes have emerged: party unity, national security, and a stronger, more equitable economy. The platform presented by the Democrats is undoubtedly more progressive than it’s been in years past, but absent from the speeches are many issues that affect cities like the one where thousands of delegates are currently gathered: nuts and bolts urban policies like housing affordability, transportation funding, and access to good public schools. Those issues are addressed in the official platform of the Democratic National Committee, but at a time when inequality is at an all-time high in many urban areas, when gentrification and housing prices are pushing poor people out of cities, and environmental injustices are sickening city residents (see: Flint), neither party seems particularly interested in addressing the most pressing needs of US cities.
This is somewhat expected for the Republican party, which, notwithstanding nods to the Latino community a few years ago, has continued to entrench itself as the anti-urban party of whiteness. But despite the fact that more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, and despite the reality that cities are Democrats’ biggest strongholds (Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, and Salt Lake City were the only major cities to vote Republican last presidential election), urbanism has taken a backseat to wooing swing-state moderates. Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential pick was a testament to that.
Enter Local Progress, a nonprofit that links together hundreds of progressive local elected leaders in cities across the country in an effort to push for local policy change, from minimum-wage increases and anti–wage theft enforcement, to housing-discrimination laws and renewable-energy strategies. On Tuesday, the organization’s members met at the Ethical Society, just a few blocks from the DNC, to release their first national policy platform. The platform, its leaders say, is an effort to highlight the reality that, to a notable degree, the nation’s progress hinges on local urban change—and this change is nearly impossible without increased federal help.
“If you talk to local electeds in red or blue states, in cities large or small, you’ll hear about the need for things like more Section 8 housing, and yet you rarely hear those issues mentioned at a national level,” Brad Lander, a New York City Council member and one of the founders of Local Progress, said in a phone call before the gathering. “These issues take up so much space in people’s lives, and in local politics, and it’s kind of ridiculous they’re not more featured at the national level. That’s what we’re trying to do.”