6 Ways Local Governments Have Actually Changed Their Constituents’ Lives This Year

Supermajority Education Fund

October 20, 2020

Whether you’re heading to your local polling location or voting by mail this election, one of the most important things you can do is vote the whole ballot. That means not only selecting candidates for high-profile races, such as president, but also voting in down-ballot races for local positions like city councilors, county commissioners, or school board members. 

Candidates in down-ballot races may not be in the national spotlight or on a prominent debate stage, but they have the power to make bold  changes that will affect your community — and plenty of local governments have been doing just that. This year, even amid a global pandemic, a number of cities passed legislation that made a real difference in their residents’ lives.

Supermajority News rounded up just some of those changes to get you fired up for the local races on your ballot.

Promised to Provide Reparations 

In July, the city council in Asheville, North Carolina, voted to provide reparations to its Black residents. The resolution calls for allocating funds to reduce racial disparities in minority business ownership, access to affordable housing, and career opportunities. Councilmembers also committed to closing racial disparities in healthcare, education, and the legal system. Rob Thomas, who leads Asheville’s Racial Justice Coalition, called the decision “a huge step” in an interview for ABC News.

Called for the Release of ICE Detainees

On August 4, the Tacoma, Washington City Council passed a resolution calling for the release of all detainees at the Northwest Detention Center on parole or bond. The resolution came after years of allegations of human rights abuses at the facility, which is one of the nation’s largest immigration detention centers. 

Councilmembers told the South Seattle Emerald that the resolution would not have been possible without the efforts of local abolition advocates and organizations. The activism of Tacoma’s City Council shows that local governments can be critical allies in national political struggles like immigration reform and decarceration.

Taken Decisive Action on Climate Change

The Trump administration’s climate policy rollbacks will drive up our carbon pollution by an estimated 1.8 billion tons between 2020 and 2035. While the Trump administration denies climate change, local politicians know they cannot afford to do the same.

In Portland, Oregon, the city council declared a “human-made climate emergency” in July and committed to transitioning to renewable energy by 2030. The council also recognized that marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by climate change. “People from frontline communities have the fewest opportunities to change or benefit from the systems that impact them, including an economy that is built off slavery, colonialism, and the unsustainable extraction of natural resources, and they must be the ones that benefit first from the transition to a clean energy economy,” reads the resolution.

Voted to Abolish the Police

When George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May, protests erupted nationwide. Activists called on lawmakers to defund or abolish police departments, and the Minneapolis City Council heard them loud and clear.

On June 26, councilmembers voted unanimously to advance a proposal that would reshape local policing. The proposal calls for creating a new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention and asks voters to eliminate a provision in the city charter that mandates a minimum number of police officers. 

Minneapolis Mayor, Jacob Frey, accused the council of moving too fast, but councilmember Jeremiah Ellison defended the process, telling The Star Tribune that the city must respond to injustices when they occur even if it’s not “on our ideal… bureaucratic schedule.”

Decriminalized Marijuana and Psychedelic Mushrooms

The city council of Santa Cruz, California, voted unanimously to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms in January. Councilmembers in Ann Arbor, Michigan made the same change last month. In July, the city council of Kansas City, Missouri, approved an ordinance repealing all local penalties for the possession of marijuana. 

These are significant changes, particularly for people of color who are unfairly targeted by the police and receive harsher prison sentences for drug crimes than their white counterparts. According to research from the ACLU, Black people are also four times more likely to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws than their white counterparts, even though both groups consume marijuana at roughly the same rate.

Recognized Polyamorous Domestic Partnerships

In June, the city of Somerville, Massachusetts became one of the nation’s first cities to recognize polyamorous domestic partnerships. The historic change was made by tweaking language in the Sommerville’s domestic partnerships ordinance. The ordinance now defines a domestic partnership as “an entity formed by people,” replaces “he and she” with “they,” and contains other inclusive language.

Of the change, Councilmember Lance Davis told The Herald News that he thinks “when society and government tries to define what is or is not a family, we’ve historically done a very poor job of doing so. It hasn’t gone well, and it’s not a business that government should be in, so that guided my thinking on this.”