Lawrence, a progressive oasis of higher education and high-tech development in what, thanks to Thomas Frank’s 2004 book, is the nation’s most famously conservative state, hasn’t exactly gone wild. Highberger and the other officials elected with the support of Progressive Lawrence–a local group that two years ago wrested power from more conservative, pro-development forces–have focused on the basics of implementing “smart growth” strategies to prevent sprawl, working with local employees to improve delivery of services and promoting tolerance in a state where that can be controversial. “We haven’t exactly reversed the whole ‘What’s the Matter With Kansas?’ thing, but we’re working on it,” jokes Highberger, a lawyer who got Lawrence to officially condemn the USA Patriot Act but who spends most of his time on mundane municipal issues like funding library services and buying new land for park space. “The things that happen in Washington and Topeka are fairly abstract, and usually frustrating. When we make a decision on the city commission–on protecting the environment, on treating people fairly–people see something change in their backyard the next day. Local politics is where progressives should be.”
I’ve been waiting for someone to see this story. Kansas is red, red, red, but Lawrence is almost exactly a mirror image.
The Nation notes that progressives gained strength as Kansas overwhelmingly passed the anti-gay amendment, but doesn’t note that Lawrence voted in almost the exact inverse ratio on that measure.
I’d love to understand the dynamic that generates such a strong polarization between urban(ish) and rural, academic and whatever.
How does a state with one of the great programs in evolutionary biology, and a museum that is a major global resource in evolutionary research is a perennial favorite for anti-evolution activists? That’s also a Lawrence vs. Kansas battle.
And so I continue looking for a progressive writer from outside the urban/academic parts of Lawrence. Any takers? I’ll offer guest posting here to anyone interested in offering such a perspective.