Unmasking the Hidden Power of Cities

Using Their Authorities, Energy, and Promise to Secure the Common Good

June 2018

By Roxana Tynan, Nikki Fortunato Bas, and Donald Cohen

We are in an unprecedented moment in U.S. history. It is a time of resurgent racism and inequality, but also of newly energized and ambitious activism. We propose that the most effective way to take advantage of that momentum and reclaim American democracy is through investment in progressive organizing in the nation’s cities. Throughout the country, cities provide the diversity, social bonds, union strength, coalitional relationships and experience necessary to achieve governing power in the interest of the common good. Despite deep investments by right-wing interests to diminish government and promote a radically procorporate agenda, city-based organizations continue to win an extraordinary range of policies that improve people’s lives, from wage increases and public school improvements, to affordable housing funding and climate resiliency solutions, to immigrant protections and criminal justice reform. Support to expand organizing in cities can drive and implement a new forward-looking vision for the country as a whole. 

Here is a summary of our findings:

  1. Cumulatively, cities hold the levers of power that can build an equitable economy and sustainable environment, thereby driving national policy advancements.
  2. Cities are already incubating and demonstrating the popularity and effectiveness of progressive policies.
  3. Cities are where we can begin rebuilding trust in government.
  4. Cities are where policymakers learn the nuts and bolts of leadership and governance.
  5. Broad-based coalition building is the foundation for powerful regional influence.
  6. Strength and capacity at the local level are key to overcoming state and federal preemption.
  7. Significant, sustained investment in organizing and leadership capacity in cities and regions is integral to movement success.

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