Over the last week, swift action has been taken to oust Beth Bashert as mayor following a racially insensitive comment. In response to the knowledge that Bashert was being tracked on her decommissioning of Black Ypsilanti leaders and antagonism towards Black City Council members, she claimed she would be “crucified” if she were to vote “no” on the reinstatement of Ka’Ron Gaines to the Human Relations Commission - therefore voting “yes.” The City Council followed by voting “no,” pointing to issues of attendance and a lack of interest and devoting the rest of the meeting to calling Bashert out on her comment.
Bashert said she would take the criticism “into consideration,” buckling down on a petty disagreement between herself and City Manager Frances McMullan in refusing to include her in a half-hearted apology to Black city leaders, and eventually deeming herself a ‘racist’ who still had work to do to learn from and correct her prejudiced upbringing.
City Council members Annie Somerville and Nicole Brown then took to the streets to protest for the Black Lives Matter movement and for the swift resignation of Bashert. A group of protesters also split off to protest at Bashert’s home. State Senator Jeff Irwin, another respected leader in the Ypsilanti community, also issued a statement calling for her resignation. Soon after, effective 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 23, Bashert tendered her resignation and issued an apology on her Facebook page.
This swift action is not an outgrowth of “cancel culture” but a sign that local pressure works. When city leaders stand up to other city leaders while encouraging constituents to speak out alongside them, real change can be made. This can also apply to areas such as police reform, healthcare innovations, and immigration; states and municipalities ought to lead the charge in standing up to societally, federally, and locally enforced poor practices.
As someone who has a vested interest in local, state, and federal politics, I have often advocated for a bottom-up approach to change and reform. A federalist and localist approach, I have found, is often quite effective, especially if it isn’t tinged with ideological considerations. Federalism is for both Democrats and Republicans, for Independents and for the politically apathetic. If any consensus is to be found in the issues of our day, it is often at the levels of governance closest to constituents.
State and local governments often deal with the most tedious of political issues and are closer to the people they reside over. That is why it’s so important to hold them accountable - they may be the ones most attentive to the urgency of change. They feel the brunt of the impact brought on by entities higher up and of their constituents. This expectation that they are responsive means they are most effectively held accountable for their misdeeds.
Even in the areas supposedly under almost exclusive federal control, states and localities have an important role. Although the federal government - especially the federal courts - has overarching power over civil rights, the economy, voting rights, and other major issues, state and local entities are often tasked with their implementation and with innovation in these areas.
My point is this: if any change is going to happen in this country, progressives ought to shrug off federal power as the answer to social ills. Change is most effectively made at the closest and most accountable levels of government. Community organization and focusing inward on city politics is an important step in advancing progressive goals.
Some of the most influential reforms in this country have begun at the local or state levels of government. Individual cities have stood up to Trump’s travel bans and to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and have navigated reproductive rights, employment discrimination, criminal justice, and healthcare. The coronavirus crisis is being most effectively handled by governors, and voters are more trusting of local and state governments to be sources of information and assistance.
There is a reason states are called the “laboratories of democracy,” and progressives shouldn’t shudder at federalism being a traditionally conservative idea; they can and should take advantage and make meaningful change and innovation, serving as an inspiration for other states and localities to follow. Progressive federalism, paired with primary challenges to safe blue seat centrist Democrats, can give the Left the power they desire, so long as they embrace the power waiting to be harnessed in cities and states across the country.
Holding former Mayor Bashert accountable for her racist comments is a good sign for change at the local level, as is a newfound broad commitment to calling out racism and prejudice where they exist, regardless of who is practicing them. A new mayor won’t magically solve the problem, but an inward focus on local government to address and correct societal ills is a step in the right direction.