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Opinion: From Gun Control to Paid Sick Leave, Progressives Don't Wait for Washington

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If you're fighting for workers' rights or to strengthen sensible gun laws, you might not feel at home on Capitol Hill. Which is why more and more progressive advocates are taking their fights local - pushing city and state governments to take action on progressive legislation where DC can't or won't. And like their conservative counterparts who have employed this strategy for decades, liberal advocates may soon see real progress.

With a Tea Party Congress that won't consider the American Jobs Act, won't even consider an overdue hike to the minimum wage (or pegging increases to the cost of living to avoid such debates) and has shown a willful indifference toward the needs of the other 99 percent, we can't expect Washington to take the lead on helping out our working families.

Fortunately, for once, progressives are learning from a conservative example and looking to take strides at the lower levels of government: the State House, when they can, or even City Hall, when they have to. That's the strategy that has pushed legislation advocating for paid sick leave front-and-center in New York City… which could help catapult it into the national conversation.

By large margins, New Yorkers are in favor of requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. The City Council, reflecting that feeling, is ready to vote for a modest bill that would give working families that level of safety and support; and the Council has enough votes to override Mayor Bloomberg who has stated his intent to veto such legislation. However, Speaker Christine Quinn - a Mayoral hopeful who is walking a delicate balance beam right now - refuses to bring the bill to a vote.

Today, a coalition of progressive groups is targeting Quinn on this issue. In the past few weeks, the pressure has mounted: first Gloria Steinem called on Quinn to allow the vote; then Susan Sarandon, a Quinn celebrity surrogate who was called out to defend the speaker, received a Twitter education on the issue and joined the call for progress. Today's action is a mix of local groups like the Working Families Party and national actors like MoveOn -- a blend of traditional community-based grassroots and online Netroots.

What makes the coalition interesting is that it shows this isn't just a local issue. When there is smart, progressive legislation on a local level, that should be of national interest to the progressive movement.

Conservatives knew that starting with local victories was a way to build the groundwork for larger legislative successes, which is why ALEC was such a success. Until its 15-minutes of infamy following the controversy around Stand Your Ground laws, ALEC had quietly built its reputation by playing Johnny Appleseed to Conservative laws - traveling state to state, giving the lawmakers the seeds they needed. Other conservative groups - from anti-choice organizations to anti-immigrant campaigns - have used the same model.

Of course, paid sick leave isn't the only progressive campaign to try to duplicate these efforts. Following the recent shooting in Aurora - and now compounded by Sunday's shooting in Wisconsin that left seven people dead - gun control is once again gaining steam as a progressive issue. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan coalition of more than 700 U.S. mayors formed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, is pushing on the gun control agenda in ways Washington will not. 

Hours before news of the Wisconsin shooting emerged, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a national television commercial featuring survivors of the 2011 Tuscon shootings that left six people dead and 13 others wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. 

When Washington can't work, we bring the battles closer to home.