VIEW FROM FLY CREEK
By ADRIAN KUZMINSKI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
As Americans have become dissatisfied with various policies imposed by the federal government, they have sought ingenious new means of resisting them.
One strategy, first developed by activists upset with federal immigration policy, was to establish “sanctuary” communities to protect undocumented immigrants, particularly from Central America, who were targeted by the federal government as illegal aliens to be deported.
In 1985, San Francisco kicked off this trend when it declared itself “A City of Refuge” by passing an ordinance prohibiting the use of municipal resources to assist the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
In the wake of the Trump Administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, the number of sanctuary communities has exploded.
By 2018, 560 municipalities in the United States, primarily in blue states, had declared themselves sanctuary communities. In reaction, about a dozen red states have banned attempts by sanctuary communities to protect illegal immigrants. The legality of all these moves remains unresolved.
In the meantime, other activists have recently endorsed the sanctuary idea. As reported in this newspaper, Oneonta resident Kaleb White and newly elected county Rep. Rick Brockway, R-Laurens, following other Second Amendment activists, are promoting Otsego County as a “sanctuary county” for the Second Amendment, in which “local authorities would simply not enforce New York state’s SAFE Act and its gun-control provisions.”
The sanctuary movement has its precedents. In the classical world temples offered sanctuary to criminals and other fugitives, a tradition maintained by medieval Christian churches. The idea was that a sacred precinct automatically extended its protection to anyone needing protection.
The old sanctuary tradition has disappeared, but the modern revival of the idea is selective rather than universal. It assumes that a local community can choose for whom it will serve as a sanctuary, no matter what the law says, thereby embracing some fugitives but excluding others.
Communities offering selective protection are likely to end up segregating themselves from neighboring communities which make different choices, further fragmenting the country.
Sanctuary communities are controversial, insofar as they stand in defiance of the law. They are a form of civil disobedience, a radical step people take when normal options fail to work. Climate change, pro-life, civil rights, anti-war, pro-labor and anti-corporate activists have all turned to civil disobedience at frustrating points in their struggles.
There have always been grievances arising out of accumulated moral affronts and economic insecurities. But there seems to be deepening polarization at home and abroad, evident in seemingly intractable problems like climate change, social identity, and economic inequality.
This new desperation says a lot about where we are as a nation, politically and culturally. It suggests that the normal channels of political give and take are no longer functioning as they should.
We haven’t yet reached anything like revolution, but the preconditions for a significant rebellion, even a blue state-red state civil war, may be in place. Increasingly, the very legitimacy of state and federal government is being called into question.
What kind of rebellion is brewing? The willingness of activists of all stripes to defy state and federal law suggests that this isn’t a traditional left-right conflict, but a revolt by those at the bottom (local communities) against those at the top (concentrations of economic and political power).
This conflict is largely due to two powerful, mostly politically unaccountable forces bearing down on us: big government and big business. Right wingers complain about big government and give big business a pass, and left wingers complain about big business and give big government a pass. But, in fact, both big government and big business are a problem for everyone.
The sanctuary movement reveals the threat by big government to local values held dear by the left (multi-culturalism and open borders) and the right (personal freedom and the Second Amendment). Resistance to big business by both the left and the right is similarly evident in the growing opposition to the threats to small businesses and local communities by corporate giants like Walmart and Amazon, and to their control of politicians and legislation through lobbying and large donations.
The common theme here is the disempowerment of individuals and communities. Big corporations and big government are largely free to override local interests. Local governments have little authority to defend their values and way of life against decisions made in Albany, or Washington, or in distant corporate board rooms.
The irony of the sanctuary movement is that local communities can provide little sanctuary for their citizens when it comes to regulating social and economic power coming from the outside.
It could be otherwise. Short of civil disobedience, the Home Rule provision of New York State was successfully invoked by activists to pass anti-fracking bans which were instrumental in persuading Governor Cuomo to ban fracking in the state. That shows what communities could do to protect their interests if they were more broadly empowered.
Expanding the scope of Home Rule powers is an important (and neglected) way to make political and economic power more accountable, and make our communities truly sanctuaries.