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Opinion | Michelle Wu

It’s up to cities to rebuild the American Dream

Long lines stretched around Boston City Hall on the last day of early voting.David L Ryan/Globe Staff

The aftermath of last week’s election revealed an America divided and suffering — half the electorate reeling in shock, despair, and rage at the ascension of a man who campaigned on bigotry and fear; the other half sick enough of broken policies and politics to put change before civility.

There’s no need to offer yet another list of those President-elect Donald Trump insulted during his campaign or the inexcusable language he used toward women and people of color.

In this country, we move on after Election Day and focus on the transition of power.

But that’s when anxiety really sets in. Trump has chosen a leading climate-change denier to oversee changes at the Environmental Protection Agency. He has spoken about eliminating the Department of Education and the federal education funding that low-income public school students depend on. His new immigration adviser has authored anti-immigrant and voter suppression laws nationwide.

Come Inauguration Day, in addition to the Oval Office, both houses of Congress will be controlled by a regressive Republican Party that seeks to rescind protections for immigrants, dismantle affordable health care, roll back environmental regulations, and limit women’s reproductive rights.


Time is running out for the country to tackle our most pressing and devastating problems — climate change, systemic racism, income inequality. We must come to terms with the reality that the federal government will not be providing solutions for families who most need help.

Here’s the silver lining: It is now more important than ever for cities to lead, and cities are where all voices can be heard.

How do we get to real solutions through local leadership?

First, cities must act boldly, with urgency and compassion, to tackle problems that extend beyond municipal borders, problems national and even international in scope. From setting workplace protections to guarding the environment and eliminating discrimination, municipalities can innovate for economic and social justice.

Second, cities must focus on transparency and community engagement. The strength of local government is our direct link to constituents. We must open up every policy discussion to the public, not just to make people feel heard, but actually to hear and identify the best solutions.


For Boston to become a model of inclusion and prosperity that leaves no one behind, we need to include all voices in decision-making. In Boston City Hall, we are moving to implement a municipal identification-card program to empower residents living in the shadows of a broken immigration system. We are discussing single-payer health care and concrete ways to reduce carbon emissions, stem the opioid crisis, and provide affordable housing for all.

Together with state government and municipalities across the Commonwealth, we can make Massachusetts a leader in renewable energy, invest in public transportation and public education to grow our economy, reform our criminal justice system, and fund treatment for substance use and mental health. But we have to take action now.

Families can’t afford to wait four more years to see progress. Vote in your municipal elections next year. Contact your local legislators to talk about your community’s needs. Show up at City Council hearings and demand change. Mobilize your friends and neighbors to understand that your day-to-day involvement with local government matters far more than a referendum on the White House every four years.

The antidote to the malaise and distrust that led to the rise of Trump is total civic engagement: working together from the grass roots, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, to implement progressive policies that build a fairer city for all.

Let’s get to work.

Michelle Wu is president of the Boston City Council.