Cities have long functioned as primary drivers for trade, investment and regional economic development, as well as sites where individuals emerge from their private spaces, connect with each other, form solidarities, politicize themselves and begin to think as a group with distinctive interconnected interests (Hytrek, 2020), to create what Mouffe (1996) calls chains of equivalence. Particularly in the US, cities manage a broad array of offloaded regulatory responsibilities and socio-economic risks and are important geographical targets and institutional laboratories for a variety of neoliberal market-based policy experiments (Peck et al, 2009: 58). These range from place marketing, enterprise zones, property redevelopment schemes and local tax abatements to workfare policies and new strategies of social control, along with a host of other institutional modifications within the local governmental apparatus. Even as US cities increasingly function as sites for neoliberal strategies and for securing order and control of marginalized populations, they remain incubators of and platforms for counterhegemonic movements. Yet the politicizing effects of cities are not uniform across space, with new movements emerging in some unlikely cities, those without histories of progressive activism.
In this chapter, I analyse one such case, Long Beach, CA, where a long history of conservative politics was dramatically and quickly reversed by the unexpected gelling of a historically fragmented labour and community sector into a viable progressive movement. To understand the rapid turnaround, the analysis draws upon the secondary city literature that examines the mechanisms through which smaller regional (secondary) cities are able to ‘punch above their weight’ and achieve economic performance unique for their size.