Over forty years ago, while living in Manila in the Philippines, I wrote a pamphlet titled “Cities Are For Living” on the growth of Manila as a city. Like all Southeast Asian port cities, Manila was the center of the nation and the nation’s political future. Southeast Asian port cities were trade centers and drew people from the provinces and from overseas nations to make them the principal city of their particular nation.
The central role of a region’s principal cities was called to my attention by the April 21st article in The Nation on “Power to the City.” Michelle Goldberg aptly points out the importance that cities have come to play in progressive movements as a balance to the gridlock that has become the nature of national politics in Washington, D.C. The gridlock has unfortunately given an upper hand to conservative voices in Congress who have blocked any move toward more economically equitable solutions to the nation’s issues.
The redistricting that ensued after the 2010 U.S. Census set in motion a right wing shift that has deadlocked any forward motion in Congress. Although the popular vote nationally represented a shifting toward Democratic policies, the larger representation within the House of Representative from the nation’s rural and redistricted areas outweighed the more Democratic urban centers. Unfortunately, this imbalance remains as we enter the 2014 electoral season. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s latest action taking restrictions off the political contributions encouraged by Citizens United, a larger amount of money flowing into Republican candidates’ campaigns threatens the Democratic majority in the Senate.
This situation raises the question: “What hope is there for any progressive movement toward social and cultural advancement and toward economic justice for the 99 percent in the nation?” It is here that Michelle Goldberg makes her case for the role of urban centers as a counter force to the debilitating climate in our national politics. Urban centers, which by their nature are cross cultural and are more representative of a society’s economic classes, have a greater tendency and wider possibilities to engage in more progressive policies. The recent election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City is a case in point. Against the background of former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s moves to beautify New York and draw larger numbers of professionals and the elite to the city’s environs, de Blasio was elected in a counter effort to provide more space and opportunity to the lower classes in New York society.
Goldberg points beyond New York for examples of the victories of progressive mayors: Betsy Hodges elected on the new Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in Minneapolis, former construction laborer Marty Walsh to head the city of Boston, and Ed Murray elected as Seattle’s mayor on a proposal to raise the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour. Even in Republican Texas, the State’s largest city of Houston is run by Annise Parker, a lesbian who is a third term mayor on the Democratic ticket.
When it comes to progressive policy, San Francisco, with its countless professionals who live in the city but take arranged transportation to work in Silicon Valley, the policies of a progressive administration are a harbinger of the future. Goldberg cites the research of Michael Reich, Ken Jacobs, and Miranda Dietz, who have enumerated in their studies the decade-long progressive movement in San Francisco. In 2003, San Francisco had established $8. 50 as a minimum wage and by 2013 it had increased to $10.55. In 2006, the city was first in the nation to require employers to provide paid sick leave. Moving on from there, the city passed the San Francisco Health Care Security Ordinance, which “mandated minimum health spending requirements for businesses with twenty or more workers, and created Healthy San Francisco, which provides comprehensive healthcare to uninsured city residents.”
There is a growing movement to reverse the prevailing antagonist conservative spirit. The obvious conservative goal is to block any move that reverses the growing economic divide in the nation. For the conservative mind any federal program that seeks to ameliorate human distress and dislocation is anathema. On the other side of the equation are progressive efforts at the local base to advance and strengthen programs that serve lower income and middle class persons and families. This message of social justice being acted out in our cities cannot be contained. They have won to their support the new generations who recognize the need for a society in which all people, no matter their race, ethnic or gender background, have an opportunity to participate in a more open and equitable society.