In the era of Trump as president, so much time is spent talking about national politics and the constant back-and-forth in Congress. Particularly for Progressives that hope to make real, meaningful changes to people’s everyday lives, maybe we need to shift some of that focus to politics at the local and state levels. There’s one state in particular, where, surprisingly, Progressives have succeeded on some fronts: Tennessee.
Take the example of net neutrality. With Ajit Pai’s FCC working to repeal net neutrality rules, the internet will fundamentally change for most people. But, that doesn’t have to be the case. While it is important to push Congress to fight against net neutrality, in the event that the Republican-controlled Congress does nothing to protect net neutrality (which is likely), the next step is to rally our state and local officials to protect net neutrality. This isn’t something unprecedented, since 2010, Chattanooga, Tennessee has provided a municipal broadband service. The result? Chattanooga is able to provide internet service that is 85 percent faster, at half the price, compared to the service provided by Comcast, and over 50 communities have since offered publicly-owned internet service. After seeing this success, lobbyists for ISPs fought against a bill that would expand public broadband to the state level in 2016 (and won).
In May of 2016, just as the presidential primaries were reaching their conclusion, Tennessee passed a bill that eliminates tuition and fees at community college in the state. While this is not at the same level as the Bernie Sanders “tuition-free public college,” Tennessee, in making community college free for its residents, has made a giant leap in the right direction and was the first state to do so. Where state and local politics lack in the glamor of national politics, they more than makeup for it in the way that Progressives and activists can fight to make real changes and win.