As our country faces a series of crises, some new fractures along with the deepening of established cracks, one throughline is becoming increasingly clear: We exist in a series of systems that do not work equally for our population, and we need meaningful change.
The collective American conscience typically focuses its attention on nationwide leaders, such as presidents and congress members, when seeking this change. In 2020, our attention has shifted to local leaders. From COVID-19 to police brutality and systemic racism, we are more frequently hearing and learning the names and choices of our governors, mayors, councilmembers, attorney generals, DA’s, and police chiefs.
Why is this? Local officials dictate the policies and budgets that affect us the most directly. They are our first line of government, often making decisions that take precedence over national law. We’ve seen this in city and state-level responses to COVID-19 and in how the National Guard is responding to protests in some cities, but not in others. The management of public safety, including how entire police departments operate, lies in the hands of local officials. In many ways our governors, mayors, and local leaders have more decision making power than the president.
Recent campaigns here at Picture Motion have drawn our attention to the drastic level of impact we can have at state and local levels, for a variety of issue areas. Through we’ve learned that public schools are almost entirely dependent on state and local revenue, and there is no national policy requiring public preschool. For , we saw that even amidst our fight to protect Roe v Wade, we can’t prevent individual states from . With , we heard from women candidates and elected officials on the difficulties that women face when running in local elections and how vital it is for women-identifying voices to be heard in government.
As we address systemic racial injustice and call for criminal justice reform, we must also recognize that those with the most power reside at home. Here are four ways you can take action:
Local policies often set the precedent for action on the federal level. Meaningful change is happening but we can’t let the momentum stop here. Our local elected officials have the power to take action, and now it’s up to us to hold them to it.
Every local government is different. To learn more about yours, we recommend visiting the official sites of your state, county, city, and district. Go to to find it, and for updates on local officials and local policy.
By Zoe Malhotra, Impact Strategy Coordinator - She loves inspiring civic action and community engagement, as well as getting deep and creative within a variety of impact spaces. She makes documentary films as well!