Thursday, November 30, 2017
by Martha F. Davis, Professor, Northeastern University School of Law
InterCultural Cities (ICC), a programme of the Council of Europe, is not widely known in the U.S., but that may change. Arriving at the ICC meeting in Lisbon earlier this week, I believed that I was the only American. Soon, however, I met a diversity consultant based in Minneapolis who is working with several Minnesota cities to come on board, and an activist from Washington, D.C., who has been pushing the idea in the District. To date, no U.S. city has joined the group.
This is the ICC’s tenth year. It is a membership organization, with member cities large and small paying annual dues. Upon joining, a city conducts an audit to determine their baseline for dealing with cultural diversity. A team of experts visits to assess the city, with periodic reports and visits following thereafter to evaluate the local government’s progress in achieving its goals. Throughout, the ICC provides expert guidance and a supportive presence to those within the city who are devoted to issues of diversity and inclusion.
The meeting I attended focused on local approaches to dealing with refugees and migrants, building on the idea that intercultural initiatives speed the inclusion of new arrivals into existing communities and deter radicalization that might otherwise come with isolation. A recurring theme was the tension between national and local governments, with nations making decisions about borders and resource allocation that undercut local agendas for growth, innovation and cultural exchange that rely on new arrivals.
Interestingly, US city activism in the Trump era was repeatedly cited as a model. “American cities seem well organized,” one speaker noted, citing the sanctuary city movement. And under the right circumstances, attendees observed, they’re not afraid to assert power, as we’ve recently in the local response to climate change.
Still, the overall tenor of the meeting was sobering. The rise in populism is worldwide, and cities alone – however strong – will not be able to save progressive values if the populist movement grows. The Council of Europe and UN representatives, the mayors and vice mayors, and the NGOs and academics were looking for something more for their toolboxes -- a technique for spreading democratic values and human rights norms while providing language and vocational training, housing assistance and meeting other basic needs.