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Another thing you can do right now: get involved in local government

Cities are our future. Help make yours better.
Published onNov 16, 2016
Another thing you can do right now: get involved in local government

Have you called your reps about Bannon yet? Okay, good. You may read on.

Check out this story from my friend Drake Baer. It’s an important one to get in the mindset to resist for the next few years.

Cities Will Be the Best Answer to a Trump White House
As the United States seeks to understand what the hell happened on Election Day, one of the most helpful frames for…

TL;DR: cities are sanctuaries for liberalism and the best ways to push back against the sure disaster of the Trump administration. They’re blue (even in red states), they can do things quickly that have real, large, lasting effects on the world, and crucially, they’re one of the last institutions in this country that actually functions well.

I’ll even go a step further than Drake: cities are the inevitable future of the species. We should use this moment of crisis to hasten that eventuality. In truth, they’re already our present. 62.7% of the U.S. population resides in cities, and the number is growing. For the first time in history, more people worldwide now live in cities than rural areas, and the divide is growing.

Even though we tend to romanticize ruralism, these trends are really good news. If we’re going to do anything about the climate, dense cities, which are far more efficient than spread out than rural alternatives, are going to be a key factor. And, cities tend to be progressive. Critically, this is not because progressives prefer cities, but because cities make people more progressive by exposing them to different people and ideas. The faster we can get more people into cities, the better off we’re going to be.

So, what can you do? It’s simple. If you live in a city, invest in making it better. Help make it a nice and affordable place for current residents and more attractive and welcoming to newcomers. There are lots of ways to do this. But one simple, easy first step is to attend the smallest local government meeting you can find.

Here in NYC, I went to my Community Board meeting for the first time ever on Monday. I was a bit nervous about it, which must have shown, because the security guard at the entrance smiled when I asked where the meeting was and said, “you look like you don’t want to be here.” When I explained that I was just nervous about doing something new, she said, “don’t be. Just go on in, sit down, and listen to what some old-timers have to say.” I took her advice.

Far from deserving my apprehension, the meeting turned out to be a salve for my still-open wounds. I walked in and found a group of people of all different ages, races, classes and, I’m sure, politics, discussing their neighborhood together. They were incredibly civil, and surprisingly jocular. There was even laughter! Laughter!

The issues they discussed — replacing phone booths with wifi stations, re-routing a bus line during road construction, a job fair for local teenagers — at first struck me as hilariously small given the unprecedented and unacceptable news at the national level. But as I listened, drawn in by a debate over wifi access vs. security, my local issues become a welcome relief from national concerns, and a needed reminder that progress will continue, in small but nontrivial steps, here and at thousands of meetings like it across the country.

But the meeting wasn’t just business as usual. New York has already reaffirmed itself as a sanctuary city, and every elected official who spoke informed us that their office would be providing free legal services for immigrants in the next 60 days. One councilman even bragged that his office had helped more constituents become citizens than any other in the city!

Another councilman spoke directly about Trump and the efforts the city is taking to fight back against the normalization of hate. Multiple flyers on the entrance table advertised opportunities to get involved in activities ranging from speak-outs to street festivals to recycling fairs. I left feeling more optimistic and relaxed than I have since the election. I’ve already found a few activities that I want to participate in. And I’ll be back, next time to meet more people and ask what I can do.

Now it’s your turn (after you call your rep about Bannon). Figure out what your city’s equivalent of the Community Board is (when you do, leave a response to this article and I’ll add it to the list at the bottom), and make a plan to go. Bring a friend. Bring two. A word of caution: don’t go to speak (you probably have to sign up to talk anyway) or to propose ideas right away. Remember that the people you find there have been doing this for a long time, and, in most cities, doing it pretty well. They’re the experts. So go to listen, go to learn, go to introduce yourself to people and take a flyer on opportunities to help out. But go.

Now, I’m under no illusion that attending one meeting actually does a whole lot on its own. But that’s not really the point. The point is to get started by doing something small, easy and surprisingly soothing. If you take the first step and keep going, by the time Trump actually takes office you’ll have attended a few meetings, you’ll have met your neighbors, you’ll have figured out where you’re going to be most impactful. You’ll be on your way to helping us build a better district, a better neighborhood, a better borough, a better city: a better life raft for the societal models that will carry us into the future. Let’s go.

Local Government in Your City

Respond to this piece with your city’s most basic local governance body, and I’ll add it to the list below.

By Gabriel Stein on November 16, 2016.

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Exported from Medium on October 22, 2020.

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