S ince January 2017, cities have taken bold actions to speak out against the harms of the federal and many state governments, pass laws, and propagate policies that improve the lives of their residents. This timeline is a cross-section of some of the boldest and most innovative actions taken by cities from 2017-2018, the first two years of the Trump Administration, demonstrating the breadth of issues addressed and the creativity of policymakers across the country.
In an effort to limit the corrosive influence of money in municipal elections, Seattle residents voted in favor of a ballot initiative in 2015 that created the Democracy Voucher Program. Administered by the nonpartisan Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and funded by a small increase in property taxes, the program provides each eligible Seattle resident with four $25 Democracy Vouchers. Residents are then able to donate these $25 Vouchers to candidates running for positions on the City Council who opted to participate. The Democracy Voucher initiative led to an increase in small donors and a more diverse slate of candidates in the 2017 elections.
Women, transgender men, and other people who can become pregnant are at an increased risk of persecution based on the decisions they make about their own reproductive health. To protect against this, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance in February 2017 to prohibit employers or landlords from discriminating against anyone based on their pregnancy status or reproductive health decisions. This included actions such as use of fertility treatments, contraceptive choices, and abortion care.*
Restrictions on abortion coverage directly infringe on a person’s reproductive autonomy and limit people’s ability to access reproductive health care based on how much money they make or where their insurance comes from. In addition to the Hyde Amendment, which bans Medicaid from covering abortion, and a companion state Medicaid ban, Pennsylvania has state-level restrictions on abortion coverage in private insurance and on the state health care exchange. On November 20, 2017, following the leadership of women of color activists, the Pittsburgh City Council voted to pass a Will of Council calling for the passage of the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, a federal bill that would reinstate abortion coverage in public insurance programs, and for the repeal of Pennsylvania’s bans on abortion coverage. In so doing, Pittsburgh joined a group of 18 other localities that have passed these resolutions, including Multnomah County, OR, in 2017 and Austin, TX; Durham County, NC; and Carrboro, NC in 2018.
Anti-abortion pregnancy centers use a variety of deceptive practices to mislead women seeking information about pregnancy options, including abortion care. In Hartford, an anti-abortion pregnancy center called the Hartford Women’s Center opened just 20 feet from the entrance to the state’s only independent abortion provider, Hartford GYN Center, which has operated in the community for more than 40 years. The anti-abortion pregnancy center emulated the abortion provider’s signage and aimed to intercept women seeking the legitimate medical center. To protect against these deceptions, the City Council passed an ordinance requiring any anti-abortion pregnancy centers to disclose whether they have a licensed medical provider on site providing or supervising medical services. A lawsuit challenging the ordinance was filed in mid-2019 and is pending.
In February 2018, Austin became the first city in Texas to pass a paid sick leave ordinance, requiring all employers to provide their employees with one hour of paid sick leave per every 30 hours worked. The ordinance’s language included feedback from local businesses to ensure that the policy was helpful to the community it intended to serve. A broad coalition of progressive organizations supported the policy’s passage, including local reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations. The ordinance was a plank in the #ReproPowerTX agenda, which calls for the enactment of local-level policies to advance abortion access and reproductive justice across Texas. These activists emphasized the intersections of economic and reproductive justice, including that guaranteed paid sick days will make abortion more accessible for workers in Austin.
Pregnant and parenting women who are incarcerated in Los Angeles can be enrolled in MAMA’s Neighborhood, a perinatal health and wellness program that offers comprehensive care. The initiative includes up to 18 months of postpartum care and group health education. Leaders in the program are planning to expand the initiative to include family visitation, birth planning, and doula care. Upon release, parents are also connected with a MAMA’s clinic and are eligible for home or community visitation with consent. The regional detention center, at the behest of advocates, had already taken important steps to address the needs of pregnant and parenting women in the facility, including providing lactation accommodations that allow women who are breastfeeding to pump milk in a private and sanitary environment and have a family member pick up the breastmilk to bring to the baby.
When Whole Woman’s Health Alliance announced plans to open an abortion clinic in South Bend, IN, in response to local need and requests from the community, an anti-abortion pregnancy center responded by trying to open in a location next door to the proposed site of the new abortion clinic. However, this would have required a rezoning of the property, which was intended for residential use. While the South Bend Common Council narrowly approved the request, Mayor Pete Buttigieg vetoed it. Because anti-abortion pregnancy centers often provide a staging ground for protesters and also pose as an abortion clinic in order to deceive patients, the mayor felt that maintaining the zoning in the area was important for preserving neighborhood safety.
Young people who do not have access to menstrual hygiene products, an expensive necessity, face many challenges when they are menstruating, including missing school or suffering from anxiety or harm to their physical health. To help remedy this critical but historically taboo problem, a group of Portland teenagers organized in the spring of 2018 to ask their school district to address the needs of menstruating public school students. The young activists were granted permission to run a small pilot to provide free tampons and pads in women’s and unisex bathrooms at their high school. By tracking the usage data over a few months and surveying their fellow students, they were able to demonstrate the need for this service. Ultimately, the Portland Public Schools Board of Education was convinced by their proposal and allocated $25,000 in the FY 2018-19 budget to fund free menstrual products for the entire district, basing the budget on information provided by the student leaders.
Despite the fact that the state of Tennessee has preempted municipal government from setting the minimum wage for all employers in its jurisdiction, Shelby County took action in November 2018 to approve an increase in the minimum wage for all county employees, including temporary workers, to $15 an hour. The raise went into effect on January 1, 2019. Nashville Mayor Lee Harris emphasized the importance of the resolution applying to temporary workers, not just full-time employees, to ensure livable wages for as many people as possible. As Tennessee’s largest county, this was an important step towards economic justice for the maximum number of employees the county could still impact.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene partnered with local activists, non-profit organizations, and community leaders to create the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Community Engagement Group (SRJ CEG) in 2015. The goal of the SRJ CEG was to develop joint projects with the Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health. Among its accomplishments, the SRJ CEG developed the “NYC Standards for Respectful Care at Birth,” a birth justice campaign created to inform, educate, and support people giving birth. The campaign featured posters and brochures in multiple languages for patients and providers, the establishment of a Birth Justice Defenders program of community members, and initial trainings for medical providers in respectful care during pregnancy and birth. The initiative is part of the city’s attempt to reduce racial disparities in maternal mortality by working to reduce structural racism and unconscious provider bias.