During National Turmoil and Gridlock, Locals Find Solutions
Just as the Founders intended, government works best close to home.
Recently, The Wall Street Journal published an essay by its executive Washington editor, Gerald Seib, on the increasing polarization and rancor in our nation’s politics, which results in an inability to find common ground and resolve the serious issues impacting millions of Americans. However, as Seib notes, many Americans are turning to state and local government, private industry, and individuals to innovate and overcome. That’s a very good thing.
For example, in the explosive and violent aftermath of the death of George Floyd, Kansas City (MO) Mayor Quinton Lucas found a simple solution for his city to the complex and emotion-driven problem of tensions between police and citizens. He removed a needless barrier to citizens’ ability to file complaints against police officers by doing away with a notarization requirement. It was the simplest of acts, but it let the community know their concerns were being heard, and that alone reduced friction.
In Sisters, Oregon, local woman Amy Burgstahler wanted to avoid the riots over policing seen in nearby Portland, so she cofounded Citizens4Community, a forum for residents to talk directly to local police officers. Burgstahler’s goal was not to drive policy but understanding. “It was awesome,” she said of the first online meeting. “People were, like, ‘Wow, I’m feeling more at ease.’ … It was never our goal to send a specific message. Our goal was to let people talk.”
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) points to another example in his home state, where a young black teenager beat a local policer officer in the head with a skateboard during a heated protest. Rather than allow passions and violence to escalate, the police officer, Raymon Washington, agreed to meet with the young man. That meeting turned into a friendship, and Officer Washington now regularly visits with the young man and his family, attends his football games, and has become his mentor.
As Rubio correctly notes, “That police officer and what he’s doing is 50 times more impactful than any law that you could pass.”
Regarding another often contentious issue — abortion — private citizens and pro-life Christian ministries across the nation have taken significant steps to provide solutions to one of the primary drivers of abortion: namely, women who feel they don’t have the means or resources to care for a child.
In Fredericksburg, Virginia, Kathleen Wilson cofounded Mary’s Shelter, a nonprofit crisis pregnancy center that provides housing for pregnant women seeking an alternative to abortion. The program, which started as a single basement apartment for a single pregnant woman in 2005, now has six homes providing shelter for up to 16 women and their families. In the 15 years since it was founded, Mary’s Shelter has helped more than 300 mothers in crisis.
In Duluth, Minnesota, local leaders started “Speak Your Peace: The Civility Project,” which set ground rules for participating in public debates on local issues in a way that lets everyone be heard on controversial issues without becoming contentious. The program has been replicated in more than 100 communities across America.
During this year’s COVID-19 pandemic, the wisdom of government-mandated shutdowns of schools reached a boiling point in many states, yet Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan devised a solution that cooled the temperature of the debate: He let counties decide for themselves when to reopen and under what circumstances. Even better, regardless of the decision of each county, Hogan declared private schools could also determine for themselves whether to reopen.
Ironically, at a time of unprecedented expansion of federal power that dictates every aspect of our lives, the American people are engaging in a brilliant display of organized chaos at an individual and local level, coming up with innovative solutions to complex problems, even as national leaders are mired in gridlock, rancor, and recriminations.
Which is exactly what our Founding Fathers wanted (the innovation, not the rancor).
Because government is force, our Founders understood the need to control that force, allowing government to do only those things the people could not do for themselves. And when government is empowered to act, it should do so at the most local level possible in order to be most accountable to the people it serves.
Article I, Section 8 delegated a very limited set of powers to the federal government, giving it primacy in the execution of those powers, but denying it any other powers. All other powers are reserved to the states, or to the people, at least in theory.
Federal power is often a zero-sum game, creating winners and losers, because it is a one-size-fits-all proposition. If I get my way you don’t get yours. It stifles innovation and crushes individual liberties. It makes neighbors enemies instead of friends, allies, and partners in community success.
The bottom line is that when people are free to choose and free to innovate, individual liberty is protected and problems are solved in positive, proactive ways. Society benefits and national unity is nurtured.
It seems like the Founding Fathers had it figured out pretty well.
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