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sweeping national interventions of the New Deal and the comprehensive federal social legislation of the 1960s have been replaced by a more decentralized approach to governance,” the national publication found.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

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