“All politics is local,” pundits have said for about 80 years now.
It may not be as complete a maxim this century.
Grassroots activism has surged back as a tactic, especially on national concerns: years of action on police and state violence, increased organizing on environmental justice and climate change, and massive mobilization around gender equity.
Perhaps local incidents inspire social energy but there’s also a tipping point where local attention takes off, one case threads to others, and themes emerge.
As I listened to North Carolinian legislators debate HB2 today, I realized that many of them are still shaped by the local politics theory. During a time of thick conflict, “local politics” can be a psychological refuge from complex and intractable (wicked) problems. It’s a shield made up of simpler times.
The local theory suggests that lawmakers can get along by doing what their district or region wants, even if that diverges from what would be most effective: they’d prefer to be accountable only to their local constituency. What they mean when they invoke “what the people want” is “what the people who most frequently call my offices want; I hope they’ll re-elect me.” All of the people in an area, people whom policies might directly affect, are secondary.
By contrast, social media is influential as an agenda-setting tool today, perhaps more so that individual local authority figures. Social media depends on people who may never meet one another face to face trading information and demonstrating mutual trust and reliability over time.
Non-local interactions shape how we interpret political events and talk to one another about them: the town priest or village doctor, who once held their authority because of their direct, personal connections with parishioners and patients, is no longer the sole arbiter for how we perceive or understand controversial subjects.
For more than 24 hours now, for instance, people from professors and preachers to Hillary Clinton have volunteered stories of their experiences as professional [Black] women facing workplace bias.
Brittany Packnett launched the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork to support Black women in telling their stories about racism and low peer or customer expectations on the job. (Some of these stories are challenging to read; fair warning.)
An entire day later, people are still story-telling and educating—two key elements of activism. And they’re doing it across platforms, not just on Facebook or Twitter, where the hashtag began. And even if their individual stories are local, their solidarity is not.
These participants have been inspired by the power of story. Their stories inspired them to breach the isolation of being marginalized and connect with others regardless of location.
The era of the parochial vision is over, and perhaps for good, but not everyone realizes it yet.