Conference Helps Build A National Network Of Progressive Cities

Last week, Local Progress hosted its third annual National Convening, bringing 50 local elected officials from around the country to New York City for three days of strategizing and movement-building that left them energized, empowered, and ready to make 2015 a year of progressive cities.

The convening was held in the New York City Hall Council Chambers and at 32BJ SEIU and featured keynote addresses from City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Every time we succeed, it builds strength for each other” said de Blasio during his address. “Every time one city acts, it builds momentum for another city. Every time a number of cities act, it builds momentum for our nation.”

The members of Local Progress came from big and small cities around the country to share their policy victories from their past year and lay out their goals for 2015. In eight different breakout workshops, elected officials and leading experts in the progressive movement discussed a wide array of innovative policies that are being advanced in their cities – on issues including immigrants’ rights and climate change, affordable housing and democracy, public education and LGBT equality.

Local Progress is staffed by the Center for Popular Democracy and governed by a board of leading progressive local elected officials.

Police reform and racial justice took center stage at this year’s convening. Local Progress members began the weekend by joining the protests to demand an end to discrimination and violence against the black community and signing a powerful open letter committing themselves to rebuilding and reforming their local law enforcement systems. The workshop on “Winning Real Police Reform” was intense, energizing, and overflowing with elected leaders. Attendees also heard from UC Berkeley’s john powell about the racial equity tools that have been brought through by the City of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative.

Economic justice and workers’ rights were also a central topic, coming off of a 2014 in which progressive cities changed the national debate by passing $15 minimum wages, establishing innovative new fair workweek rights, and empowering workers to stand up for themselves on the job through collective action.

Two of the country’s most innovative and progressive labor leaders – the AFL-CIO’s Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre and 32BJ’s Héctor Figueroa – were among the key movement partners who participated in the convening. It also featured leaders like Demos’ Heather McGee, the Center for Working Families’ Valerie Ervin, the Open Society Foundation’s Ken Zimmerman, and the Democracy Alliance’s Gara LaMarche.

But the convening was not just about policy. It was also about power, and how we can build the institutions and partnerships to actually achieve our vision for a more just and equitable society. Separate sessions focused on the challenges and opportunities for large and small cities, respectively, and about the best strategies for building and exercising strength at the local level.

The purpose of Local Progress is to develop solidarity across cities and build trans-local power that can change the national landscape. It is staffed out of the Center for Popular Democracy precisely because building “inside / outside” partnerships between progressive elected officials and rooted, community-based organizations is the only way to win sustainable and lasting reform at the local level.

As de Blasio put it, “this connection, this synergy, will change the future, not only of our cities and towns and counties. It will change the future of this country. I don’t have any doubt about it. We have that critical mass point. I want to thank Local Progress for seeing it and creating a venue for deepening this work.

The 2014 Local Progress National Convening was made possible by generous support from the Surdna Foundation, the Service Employees International Union, the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, 32BJ SEIU, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, Citi Community Development, the United Federation of Teachers, CWA District 1, and SEIU Healthcare 775NW.

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