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Don't bemoan Washington's bogland

With Congress in gridlock on issues like guns, immigration, and energy, Americans turn to states, cities, and private groups for action. This spirit of community and problem-solving will inevitably find its expression somewhere.

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Bruce Dubberly, left, Avery Smith and Lindsay Davis, right, work a field in Athens, Ga., to grow produce for a farmer's market at the Athens Community Council on Aging offices on Mondays.

Richard Hamm/The Banner-Herald/AP Photo

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With Washington in gridlock on issues from gun regulation to immigration reform, Governing magazine took note this month that Americans are turning to local and state governments – as well as each other – to find common ground in solving problems.

“The sweeping national interventions of the New Deal and the comprehensive federal social legislation of the 1960s have been replaced by a more decentralized approach to governance,” the national publication found.

States and cities can more easily pass laws than Congress because of a practical focus and stronger identity as a community. The trend is not confined to governance. As the local-food movement has grown, for example, scholars note that people are 10 times more likely to talk to each other at a farmers' market than a supermarket. Volunteering has surged. And with car-dependent suburbs growing old, urban life has a new cache, creating new types of bonding that the late scholar Iris Young called the “being together of strangers.”

Over a century ago, the French observer Alexis de Tocqueville was astounded at the ability of Americans to solve problems by forming new associations: “If it is a question of bringing to light a truth or developing a sentiment with the support of a great example, they associate,” he wrote. Thomas Jefferson referred to volunteer groups as “little republics.”

Today, trust in state and local government remains high – above 50 percent – compared with only 28 percent of Americans who have faith in the federal government, according to the Pew Research Center. As long as states or local laws stay within the US Constitution or federal laws, they can often better reflect the wishes of a larger proportion of voters than many divisive laws passed by Congress.

One good example: States have banded together to create the Common Core State Standards for K-12 education, aiming to replace the much-disliked federal program No Child Left Behind.

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