By Nick Licata, Seattle City Council and a PSARA member
Urbanized areas of 50,000 or more people account for 71% of nation’s population. Many of the most exciting, innovative and progressive legislative initiatives emanate from these cities. And yet, I have found that while serving on the Seattle City Council for 15 years, there is no national network connecting elected public officials to exchange and promote progressive legislation.
In March of 2012, 30 people representing a handful of cities and a dozen national grassroots organizations met to discuss the need for creating a progressive national municipal network. Representatives from Progressive Majority and the national office of SEIU encouraged the elected officials there to pursue this effort. With the additional assistance from the Center for Popular Democracy, we met again in November.
At that meeting 41 elected officials from 32 towns and large cities, including three other Washington State municipal officials, Greg Taylor from Renton, Ryan Mello from Tacoma and De’Sean Quinn from Tukwila, came together and founded a new national organization, Local Progress, a national municipal policy network www. localprogress.net.
Our goal is to create more just and equitable cities to counter the increasing disparity in income and wealth that our nation has been experiencing. We have seen huge cuts in programs designed to maintain infrastructure, provide basic health and safety services, and sustain local economies. These regressive policies do not happen by accident. They are reinforced by the growing influence of money in politics, through groups that work in a coordinated way to weaken health and safety regulations, roll back civil rights, lower taxes on moneyed interests, and demonize, privatize, and eliminate public programs and services.
In many cities there is a counterforce: progressives working in coalitions of elected officials, community groups, labor unions, and advocacy organization. Working together, we have adopted legislation at the local level to advance progressive policies. Living-wage laws make sure that public dollars don’t pay for poverty jobs. Cities, like Seattle, are leading the effort to make sure that all workers can take paid sick days, instead of choosing between their jobs and their health. Inclusionary housing policies create affordable housing in diverse neighborhoods. Responsible banking acts make sure that banks use the people’s money to meet community needs. Municipal campaign finance reforms return government to the people.
The success of Local Progress depends on three elements working together: elected officials, national progressive organizations and a useable, reliable database of municipal legislation. City Councilmembers and Mayors pass legislation, organizations mobilize citizens and a database allows both of these groups to share information and to find one another to pursue coordinated campaigns.
As the new chair of this organization I look forward to sustaining this effort and producing results.