In his powerful speech at the historic Riverside Church in April of 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for a true revolution of values in America. We start this week by honoring Dr. King’s memory, and by the end of the week we will have inaugurated the next President of the United States of America.
How will the values that Dr. King impressed upon us—equality, justice, peaceful resistance, revolutionary ideas—fare under a Trump Administration?
Already, community organizations across the nation foresee federal threats to these values, and are organizing to protect and shield our country’s most vulnerable. Local and state governments have a choice to make. Will they act to uphold Dr. King’s values alongside their constituents or will they risk being complicit in attacks on these values by the federal administration?
County, regional, and state governments are already poised to be first line of defense against federal cuts—as well as against drastic and destabilizing legislative changes. These bodies must work proactively with their communities to anticipate future needs and to develop strategies for action. In doing so, local governments can form a vital and powerful support network across the country to not only defend—but to uphold, preserve, and expand upon the values that Dr. King put forth.
We propose three ways that local jurisdictions can act now:
#1 – Adopt policies and practices of resistance and non-cooperation to protect the rights of constituents.
Already, in bids to thwart attacks on progressive immigration and climate change efforts, local governments and states have deployed non-cooperation strategies that range from legal mobilization and legislative action to the adoption of resolutions. Los Angeles unveiled a$10,000,000 legal defense fund for immigrants; Washington DC followed suit with plans to create a $500,000 legal defense fund to protect the undocumented; and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to use legal means against the federal government if they create a Muslim registry. Across the country, in an effort to defend against climate change, California Governor Jerry Brown has vowed to continue to curb carbon emissions.
Cities and states—as well as schools and churches—have released statements and adopted resolutions against hate violence and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bigotry. In Multnomah County, Oregon, County Commissioners unanimously resolved to be a place where people, including undocumented people, can visit clinics, libraries, and other services without fear. A Montgomery County, Maryland resolution condemns “recent hate crimes” and asserts that the County Police will play “no role in enforcing federal immigration law”.
Across the nation, jurisdictions are reaching beyond their own city and county limits, and organizing together. Organizations like the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, Local Progress, and the National League of City’s Race and Equity and Leadership build the collective power of municipalities mobilizing to advance racial equity, protect their constituents and the legislative gains of the past decade. Already, we are seeing the seeds of a municipal movement for an inclusive, equitable democracy taking root.
#2 – Strengthen local and state engagement with communities—particularly the most vulnerable communities under the new federal administration.
At a time when vulnerable individuals may feel more reluctant than ever before to approach government systems, local and state governments must strengthen community ties. On-the-ground knowledge from community organizations, churches, and neighborhood and other civic groups can inform and foster relevant, robust policy decisions. Strengthened community ties also open opportunities for improved two-way communications between government agencies and the people they serve, providing reassurance and guarding against misinformation in times of uncertainty. For example, we are seeing local jurisdictions take steps to becoming Sanctuary Cities. Such measures send a message that communities will welcome everyone, regardless of immigration status, but Sanctuary status does not prohibit Federal immigration enforcement from arresting undocumented people. Local governments need to move beyond symbolic actions and engage closely with community institutions to ensure that constituents are informed of possible threats while enacting practical protections for the most threatened in their jurisdictions.
#3 – Commit to policies and practices that center equity.
The President-elect’s campaign promises included overt singling out of racial, religious, and other marginalized groups. He used divisive language that provoked fear, and also threatened to incite violence. In light of this, local and state governments are already at work to shore up support for their most vulnerable populations, particularly people of color. Racial equity requires individual as well as institutional approaches to address and eliminate structural racism. Policy that equitably addresses the needs and concerns of those most impacted by structural racism, in turn, benefits everyone. Today, state and local jurisdictions must not falter. Now is the time to advance racial equity and inclusion—defending progressive gains and laying the groundwork for a more equitable future for everyone in this country.
As we prepare for the next four years and beyond, I return to the lessons from Dr. King. In a chapter in Stride Toward Freedom the Montgomery Story, he teaches us:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels inevitability. Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals…This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
It is up to us. We the people can catalyze positive action, and alongside local and state government, we can continue to build a better future for everyone—despite harsh political conditions. Working side-by-side, we can create an inclusive democracy—in our towns, cities, counties, and states—that puts Dr. King’s idea of beloved community into action.