Rebecca Solnit in San Francisco
Friday December 28, 2007
American cities, counties and states have offered a crucial counterweight to the White House on the issues that really matter
The centre cannot hold, and that’s the good news in the United States these days. Quietly, doggedly, cities, regions, counties and states have refused to march to the Bush administration’s drum when it comes to climate change, the environment and the war. Some of the recent changes are so sweeping that they will probably drag the nation along with them – notably efforts by Vermont, Massachusetts and California to set higher vehicle emissions standards and generally treat climate change as an environmental problem that can be addressed by regulation. The Bush administration has notoriously dragged its feet on doing anything about climate change, and it will now be dragged along by the states, themselves prodded forward by citizens.
It wasn’t supposed to work that way. States’ rights was a rallying cry for conservatives for much of the 20th century, first in allowing segregation and racial discrimination across the south and then in allowing environmental destruction around the west. Rightwingers have usually believed in a weak federal government – except when they run it; and that weakness, or rather the strength of the local, has been one of the bright spots during the seven bleak years of life under Bush.
The changes operate on all scales. Across the country, quite a lot of cities and towns have passed measures condemning the Iraq war or calling for the troops to be brought home. A handful of California counties have banned GM agriculture, and others have tried but been defeated by industry money – but may try again. North Dakota farmers created so powerful a pact against the use of Monsanto’s GM wheat that the corporation eventually gave up on commercialising the invention worldwide.
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