So Washington’s Stuck. Here’s How We’re Moving Ahead.
The decision by Los Angeles to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 has national significance far beyond the powerful impact it will have on the incomes and lives of an estimated 400,000 workers in LA.
For not only does it put pressure on the rest of California, New York, Chicago and other large U.S. cities to lift their low-wage workers, but it signals that the policy initiative is shifting away from Washington on some important issues. States and cities don’t want to wait any longer for a national government paralyzed by partisan politics.
While Washington stalls on raising the minimum wage as President Obama proposed in early 2013, 28 states have already moved ahead of the feds, with minimum wages above the federal level of $7.25 an hour.
On other issues, too, from fostering worker-friendly capitalism and addressing student debt to constitutional reform, public funding of political campaigns, and forcing dark money Mega Donors out into the open, states from Colorado to Maine, Tennessee to California, Washington to Connecticut, Arizona to Minnesota have bypassed DC and acted on their own.
With a 73% popular vote, Colorado passed a referendum to roll back the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and restore the power of Congress and the states to regulate campaign funding and spending. In all, 16 states and more than 500 cities have taken similar action.
Just five years ago, Maryland became the first state to enact a law authorizing Public Benefit Corporations, companies chartered to pursue social, environmental and worker friendly goals and not just squeeze out maximum profit for shareholders. Today, 27 states have such laws and more than 1,000 B Corps, as they’re called, have been certified by an independent B Lab.
In all, 25 states have some form of public financing for state elections. Some have taken the vital responsibility for drawing legislative district boundaries out of the hands of political parties and turned it over to citizen commissions. A handful have put a halt to tuition increases at public state universities and Tennessee is pioneering free community college for all of the state’s high school graduates. The list goes on.
To some analysts, those initiatives raise the question of whether we are beginning to see the slow, early, inchoate, piece by piece emergence of a new progressive period in parts of the country, echoing the early 20th century progressive push for trust busting, women’s suffrage, and constitutional amendments for the direct election of senators and the income tax.
These developments should be encouraging to civic activists, non-profits, populist movements and reformers all across America because they that grass roots civic action is having a discernible impact.
On this reclaimtheamericandream.org website, my researchers and I have pulled together striking examples of this change-in-motion, with maps for people to see where their state stands, and inspiring models of successful reforms and close-up stories of how they were achieved.
- How California smoked out a Koch dark money network and then enacted the nation’s toughest campaign funding disclosure law.
- How the little town of SeaTac forged a diverse coalition of churches, mosques, unions, and community groups to pass the nation’s first $15 minimum wage.
- How public funding of state campaigns for governor, legislature and other high offices has altered the political culture in Maine and Connecticut.
- How a green friendly, worker friendly, community friendly B Corp named Etsy surprised Wall Street by taking an Initial Public Offering of its stock to the Nasdaq market, nearly doubling its price in one day, suggesting that even on Wall Street investors like the idea of a company with a heart.
- How Republican Governor Bill Haslan of Tennessee, seeking to make his state more globally competitive, got his conservative legislature to fund tuition-free community college for any Tennessee high school graduate.
In short, change is happening – more widely than most Americans realize. When reforms happen somewhere, they often slip under the radar of the national media or they get a one-day story and are then forgotten. But you need to know that change is afoot in America today.
What we’ve done on this website is connect the dots, given you inspiring stories and calls for action, some ideas on how to get started, and good organizations to link up with. It’s Up to Us. Time to get organized.