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Transatlantic Initiative: Tapping into the Potential of Mayors and Local Governments in Safeguarding Local Democracy and Maintaining Social Cohesion Amidst a Dynamic Hate and Extremist Threat Landscape

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— 3 minutes reading time

On 15-16 June 2023, the Strong Cities Network convened more than 50 representatives from German, Central and Eastern European and North American local governments, national governments and civil society to unleash the potential of mayors and local governments in safeguarding local democracy and maintaining social cohesion amidst a dynamic hate and extremist threat landscape. This included mayors and other officials from Berlin, Dortmund, Rostock and Weißenfels in Germany; Paris, France; Dąbrowa Górnicza, Lublin, the Pomorskie Region and Warmińsko-Mazurskie Voivodeship in Poland; Budavar and Budapest in Hungary; Edmonton, Canada; and Aurora (Colorado), Highland Park (Illinois), Lexington (Virginia), Los Angeles (California), Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), Seattle (Washington), and Stamford (Connecticut) in the US.  The workshop was held at Berlin City Hall, with support from the US Embassy, Berlin. It is one in a series of transatlantic dialogues Strong Cities is hosting to facilitate greater cooperation between European and North American cities, providing a platform through which they can discuss shared threats and city-led solutions to hate and extremism.

The workshop offered participants the opportunity to discuss emerging threats to their communities and to learn from inspiring city-led practices for and mayoral leadership in preventing hate, polarisation and extremism. The event also featured a range of keynote speeches: Clarence Anthony, Executive Director of the National League of Cities, spoke about the evolving role of cities in stemming the rising tide of hate and related issues and how civility should be the foundation of prevention efforts, calling on cities to work together to address common challenges. Nancy Rotering, Mayor of Highland Park, Illinois, reflected on the impact of hate-motivated violence and the role of mayors and the governments they lead in supporting their communities in the aftermath of such tragedies. Márta Váradiné Naszályi, Mayor of Budavar, Hungary and Amarjeet Sohi, Mayor of Edmonton, Canada provided examples of how they, as city leaders, are building resilient cities through policies and programmes that celebrate inclusivity and are founded on community-based partnerships. Participants were also provided with broad overviews of the online threat landscape and the proven potential for this to escalate to violence offline, through keynote addresses by Huberta von Voss, Executive Director of ISD Germany, and Josephine Ballon, Head of Legal at HateAid, an organisation that provides support (financial, legal, emotional and otherwise) to victims of online violence, which increasingly includes city leaders.

The two-day conference concluded with keynote addresses by the State Secretaries of the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community (BMI), and the City of Berlin’s Senate of the Interior and Sport, which was followed by a final panel session on strengthening cooperation for prevention among national, regional/state and local governments.

Three key themes emerged out of these discussions:

  1. Mayoral Leadership: mayors continue to show immense leadership in preventing hate and extremism despite the backlash that often results. Through pushing for inclusive policies, speaking out against hate and related issues, a growing number of mayors are building cities that celebrate diversity, community togetherness and that promote civility. Unfortunately, in doing so, local leaders may be subject to threats and harassment on- and offline, with little to no support provided to help them respond appropriately.
  2. Community Engagement and Partnerships: representatives from cities on both sides of the Atlantic stressed the importance of visible governance through collaborating with, investing in and otherwise actively engaging local communities, organisations and businesses. Whether through community engagement forums, supporting local civil society organisations (CSOs), partnering with the local private sector, and/or hosting inter-community dialogues, cities need to invest in and sustain community-based partnerships and programmes.
  3. National-Local Cooperation: participants urged better collaboration between national and local governments in order to effectively prevent hate and extremism at the local level. In particular, participants stressed the need for better communication between the national government and local authorities, and a concerted effort to ensure rural towns are engaged in addition to urban centres.