…radical municipalism has a proud history in the US. One hundred years ago, the “sewer socialists” took over the city government of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and ran it for almost 50 years. They built parks, cleaned up waterways and, in contrast to the tolerated level of corruption in neighboring Chicago, the sewer socialists instilled into the civic culture an enduring sense that government is supposed to work for all the people, not just the wealthy and well-connected.
More recently, too, cities have been proving their ability to lead the national agenda. In the last few years alone, over 200 cities have introduced protections against employment discrimination based on gender-identity and 38 cities and counties have introduced local minimum wages after local “Fight for 15” campaigns.
Now we need a dual municipalist strategy that includes both supporting and putting pressure on existing progressive city governments from the streets, and standing new candidates with new policy platforms in upcoming local elections so that we can change institutional politics from within.
As the level of government closest to the people, municipalities are uniquely able to generate new, citizen-led and participatory models of politics that return a sense of agency and belonging to people’s lives.
Cities are spaces in which we can talk about reclaiming popular sovereignty for a demos other than the nation, where we can reimagine identity and belonging based on participation in civic life rather than the passport we hold.