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Rebel Cities: A New Approach to Give Government Back to the People?

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Advocates of grassroots political change think Madison, Wis., is well-suited to be a player in the Rebel Cities movement. (City of Madison)
Advocates of grassroots political change think Madison, Wis., is well-suited to be a player in the Rebel Cities movement. (City of Madison)
October 6, 2017

MADISON, Wis. – Bringing the political conversation back to the local level is one of the aims of the Rebel Cities movement. Those who support this relatively new political concept say city governments are perfectly positioned to blunt what they see as a harmful rise of nationalism in the country.

Rebecca Kemble is an advocate of Rebel Cities. She's an alder in Madison, a community she sees as having the potential to be a Rebel City, for its high level of community activism.

"Small groups of organized people have really made big differences in policy, but they're not comprehensive policy differences," she says. "They're not reorienting our government policy generally more toward, say, re-commonizing what we can."

Rebel Cities supporters believe a big part of changing a local government is developing new political candidates, who will run on platforms of changing institutional politics from the inside.

According to Kemble, Madison has a long and well-deserved reputation as an activist community. But she says it's a lot of small-group activism that hasn't been well coordinated.

"There are all these community grassroots efforts, but again, the lack of coordination," she adds. "And it doesn't even have to be ideological agreement, but at least some basic agreement on values and strategy hasn't really happened."

Kemble says Madison's image as a progressive and enlightened city often doesn't stand up to scrutiny, particularly in terms of quality of life for its minority populations.

"Madison is a majority-white city, with some of the most extreme racial disparities in quality of living, economic indicators and incarceration rates for African-Americans," she explains.

Advocates of the Rebel Cities movement say city governments, rather than national political parties, are the best places to start putting government truly back into the hands of the people.

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Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI