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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The twin crises of coronavirus and systemic racism in policing have suddenly turned the national spotlight on local governments, and are forcing local leaders to make many of the most important decisions in the country.

Between the lines: Elected city leaders — many of whom do the jobs on a part-time basis — certainly weren't prepared to respond to multiple crises at once. But they have no choice.

Where it stood: For years, national narratives have dominated and overshadowed local agendas.

  • National political fights have subsumed state and local issues, and with local media gutted, readers have been left primarily with national news from Washington and New York, with less understanding of their own communities.
  • High-value industries consolidated along the coasts, draining the inland states of jobs and workers. And the economy's health has been measured with national statistics, often ignoring those being left behind.

Where it stands: Now, though, local governments are calling the shots that will have far-reaching ramifications for Americans, from re-opening their economies amid the coronavirus pandemic, to reforming police departments and responding to protests. And they're back in the spotlight as a result.

  • The crises facing cities are inherently local, requiring a detailed, block-by-block understanding of neighborhoods' needs.
  • COVID-19 has affected communities of color at alarmingly high rates. Police are under fire for mistreating many of those same communities. And lower-income workers have borne the brunt of job losses as local economies have crumbled.

"One consequence of this pandemic is the clear message that cities, and to some extent states, are on their own," said Peter Atwater, an adjunct lecturer at William & Mary who studies the impact of confidence in decision making.

  • "It speaks to inequality broadly, and a sense of voicelessness that goes along with that. You have massive amounts of people unemployed, furloughed, in limbo. Psychologically, people are drowning," he said.

What to watch: The power lies in grassroots momentum, applying pressure to leaders who are close enough to feel it.

  • "Our residents are becoming more concerned about how their local communities are governed," National League of Cities CEO Clarence Anthony said. "As much as they feel they don't have an impact on national policy, they clearly feel they can have an impact on their neighborhood."
  • "This is likely to lead to a massive change in American voice," Atwater said. "Grassroots community civic leaders are the ones that come up from the bottom, who will gain a growing and growing following."

Go deeper

SurveyMonkey poll: Suburbs and the safety wedge

Data: SurveyMonkey poll of 35,732 U.S. adults conducted Aug. 31 to Sept. 6, 2020 with ±1% margin of error; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

White suburbanites who feel "very safe" in their communities are more likely to favor Joe Biden, while those who feel only somewhat safe move toward President Trump, according to new SurveyMonkey polling for Axios.

Why it matters: The findings help illuminate how Trump is using safety as a wedge issue ahead of the election — and why he's fanning fears of violent protests bleeding into the suburbs.

4 hours ago - World

Defense Sec. Austin stresses U.S. commitment to Israel's security amid growing Iran tensions

Issei Kato/Reuters/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived for his first visit in Jerusalem amid nuclear talks in Vienna and growing tensions between Israel and Iran.

Why it matters: Austin met his counterpart Benny Gantz and will meet later with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss Iran and regional security issues.

"I was horrified": Leaders respond to footage of Black and Latino Army officer threatened at traffic stop

An Army officer is suing two Virginia police officers after he said they drew their guns and pepper-sprayed him during a traffic stop in December.

Why it matters: Footage of the incident has drawn widespread criticism from leaders and groups in the state. Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, is heard saying “I’m honestly afraid to get out," to which a police officer responds “Yeah, you should be," in a video from a body-worn camera.