With its agenda falling on deaf ears in Washington, especially since 9/11, the Left has increasingly pursued a new strategy of bringing its political, economic, and social program directly to America’s cities, where the political class usually is more sympathetic toward its policies than are Washington legislators. The clearest expression of this strategy is the living-wage movement, successful in passing legislation raising the minimum wage for various categories of workers in 80 cities since the mid-nineties (see “How the ‘Living Wage’ Sneaks Socialism into Cities,” from the forthcoming Winter 2003 issue).
Learning from the success of the living-wage movement, civil liberties advocacy groups are now trying to undercut the Homeland Security Act and other federal initiatives to fight terrorism by forming urban coalitions to pass local bills and resolutions in cities that challenge provisions of the federal terrorism legislation. Arguing that federal anti-terrorism efforts erode civil liberties, the advocates, led nationally by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, have already won resolutions or laws in 20 cities, beginning with college-dominated Weirdistans like Amherst, Berkeley, and Cambridge. Efforts are under way in 60 more. Some of these laws even urge local law enforcement and other city employees not to cooperate with federal agencies investigating terrorism. Predictably, the New York Times has enhanced these efforts by blazoning them on Page One. As the Times sums up the issue, the federal government may now have gained “too much muscle in its war against terrorism at the expense of average Americans, especially Muslims.”
These resolutions represent an unprecedented intrusion by uninformed, unsophisticated local legislators into the federal government’s responsibility to protect Americans. The local laws are not only a threat to the security of all city-dwellers, but of all Americans. Thankfully, Washington can fight back, just as some state legislatures have begun fighting municipal living-wage laws by passing legislation that makes it illegal to usurp state wage laws. Washington has an even bigger stick to wield. The federal government supplies America’s cities with billions of dollars in aid each year, including federal resources to fight crime. Washington should demand that cities getting federal aid uphold federal law or risk losing the money.
If not stopped soon, the Left is sure to keep using city councils to advance the more far-out of its notions. The councils of Oakland and Boulder, for example, have just joined a lawsuit that seeks to go over the head of the federal government to force two federal economic development agencies to advance far-left environmental policies. The Left seems to have decided that all politics—even global politics—really is local.