News: Local Elected Officials Are Leading Us Through a National Crisis by Krithika Harish (7/31/20)
As communities navigate health and financial insecurity, the prospect of an uncertain future, and the violent reality of structural racism; local leaders have been launched into the national spotlight for taking critical actions daily to keep us safe.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is currently engaged in a fierce legal battle with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to keep in place an executive order she issued earlier this month, requiring all Atlanta residents to wear masks in public. As wait times for COVID test results continue to lag across the country, nearly 80 Mayors, lead by Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan, are calling on the White House Coronavirus Task Force to rapidly scale up the production of critically needed testing supplies. And although the CDC issued guidelines for reopening schools, our school boards and city councils are the ones ultimately making the decision of how and when schools reopen in our communities. Progressive local electeds are bravely advocating and fighting for policies that immediately impact our day to day lives, and we must support them.
At the federal level, Congress is currently deliberating over the next stimulus package — it will be the first one they have passed since March. Meanwhile conditions for most Americans have only grown worse — our unemployment rates are higher than they were at the peak of the great recession, 53% of Americans say that worry or stress related to coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health, and starkest of all, over 150,000 people have died from coronavirus.
In many cities, local governments have stepped up to fill the vacuum of insufficient federal support by providing direct cash assistance, rent relief, and food dissemination to community members impacted by COVID. Too many people, especially immigrant workers, many who have been essential to our lives during the pandemic, have been left out of federal aid. Millions of dollars in cash assistance funds were spearheaded by local electeds to benefit all residents regardless of their immigration status in cities like Boston and Seattle located in more “blue states”, but also cities like Austin and Minneapolis in “red and purple states.” Local electeds are breaking from statewide narratives and busting the red state, blue state dichotomy every single day.
Local electeds are also emerging as champions on the frontlines of the national reckoning around racial justice and police violence. The #DefundPolice movement, which calls for divestment from police and investment in community needs, is gaining steam across the country. Local elected officials in close to two dozen cities are publicly calling for and/or working on divesting from police. In Arizona, the Phoenix Union High School District decided not to renew their agreement with the city to have law enforcement officers on school campuses. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has publicly pushed for local control of the city’s police department. Again and again, we are seeing local leaders breaking from statewide narratives around key issues.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has publicly pushed for local control of the city’s police department. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
Reopening schools and ensuring safe/equitable voting practices are two other issues of critical importance over the next few months that local decision makers can influence. As students, teachers, and their families, stress over the reopening of schools during a pandemic, decisions on how/if schools should reopen are being made by local school boards and city councils. Local Progress and the Center for Popular Democracy have released a toolkit detailing the power local jurisdictions have to reduce barriers to participation in elections, especially for underrepresented groups.
This month, we lost Congressman John Lewis, one of the great civil right leaders of the last century and a man who served as a moral compass during pivotal moments for our country. Mainstream coverage of Rep. Lewis often mentions his time organizing with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), but he also served on the Atlanta City Council from 1981–1986, where he was a fierce advocate for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. Progressive local electeds are from our communities, they understand our issues, and fight for our rights every day. If we want to pass policies that address the needs of all Americans and build a strong pipeline of progressive candidates for the future, we must recruit, train, and support leaders at every level of ballot.
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