Light amidst the Dark: Local Victories Show the Path Forward

Patricia Hynes Jan 18, 2017

“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” Writing decades ago, the poet Theodore Roethke could not have foreseen these dimmest of times. Piercing the dark ages of this presidency, bulging with billionaires, climate deniers, generals where civilians should be, and thieves of women’s rights, let’s look beyond the Beltway to where democratic action, community building and compassion are at work in our country.

There is the recent story of Kelly Carter, an African American waitress in Ashburn, Virginia whose customers, a young white couple, left this message on the bill: “great service, don’t tip black people.” Photos of the bill and their note went viral and customers flocked to support her, leaving generous tips.

City Ordinances, Ballot Measures and More

In 2016 residents of the small town of Barnstead, New Hampshire unanimously voted for a town ordinance establishing the right to freedom from forced religious identification, while more than 30,000 non-Muslims recently pledged to register themselves if Trump’s proposal to require all Muslims to register is implemented.

Local ordinances to ban fracking and fracking waste have passed in hundreds of cities and towns in more than 20 states, in Washington DC and on Native American lands.

Voters in the working class, diverse city of Richmond, California voted 2-1 to introduce rent control, one of the first cities in 30 years to do so. This victory, against a high-spending real estate lobby campaign, is owed to a diverse, progressive political alliance; vibrant local media including student journalists and a new generation of young people running for office.

More than 500 cities and counties, 4 states and hundreds of colleges and congregations have proclaimed themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, meaning they will not cooperate with federal immigration authorities in providing information on immigrants, regardless of their status.

Climate Activism: Youth

Twenty-one youth ages 9 to 20 filed a climate change lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court in Oregon in 2015. Their complaint asserts that by not doing enough to stem climate change, the government has violated their generation’s constitutional right to life, liberty, property and has failed to protect essential public trust resources. The government’s and fossil fuel industry’s motion to deny was dismissed in court.

This case has been called the major trial of the century. While it will be fought and endlessly appealed by the Trump administration, the greatest action on climate change going forward is at the state and local level.

Climate Change: State and Local Action

No matter what the federal policy “the genie is out of the bottle in regards to clean energy and energy efficiency…The majority of new electric generation capacity in 2016 was solar and wind and nothing will stop this revolution that favors efficiency and clean energy.” So wrote Professor Cutler Cleveland to his energy and environment students at Boston University when they expressed pessimism about their choice of academic major and job future with the new administration’s plans to regress to fossil fuels and abandon clean energy.

Nearly every ballot initiative in 2016 in support of clean energy and waste reduction passed, including in Republican states of Nevada and Florida despite hostile governors and legislators.  Alternative fuel vehicles in Washington, consumer choice in electricity providers in Nevada, rooftop PV solar in Florida, and reduced use of plastic bags in California: all were voted in by citizens.

Living Wage

In just four years of organizing, the fight for a livable wage- known as the Fight for $15-has won major victories from coast to coast, while the federal minimum wage stagnates at poverty level, $7.25 per hour.  In 2016, 7 states and 18 cities and counties approved minimum wage increases between $10.10 and $15.  In 2017, 21 states and 38 cities and counties will increase their minimum wage. Who are the underpaid? The majority are women and people of color in food service, agriculture, hotel and motel services, retail sales, administrative services, and private household services: those most denigrated during the Trump campaign.

Resisting the Trump Agenda: A Manual

Former congressional staffers recently released a manual, Indivisible Guide, for people, groups and organizations to thwart the new rightwing administration by forming localized activist groups to pressure their congressional representatives to resist Trump's agenda. Taking a page from the Tea Party, the manual provides a step-by-step process of grassroots organizing and advocacy targeting members of Congress.

Women’s March for Women’s Rights

The Women's March on Washington, poised to be the largest inauguration day protest in history, is a women-led movement bringing together people of all ages, races, cultures, political affiliations and backgrounds in the nation’s capital on January 21, 2017. The guiding vision of the march is that women’s rights are human rights. Among these rights, women deserve to live full and healthy lives with equal opportunity and equal pay, free from male violence and sexual objectification and free to make our own reproductive choices.

The historic Women’s March on Washington is joined by hundreds of Sister Marches throughout the world, including in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.


Our agenda, going forward, is laser clear: rebuilding civil society in small, local groups and community organizations, protesting hate crimes, protecting the undocumented from deportation, lobbying for a living wage and affordable housing; providing health services for those who lose them, resisting the expansion of charter schools, building farmers markets, and electing principled people to local and regional offices.   

Pat Hynes, a retired professor of environmental health, directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice.

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