Local Trust, Local Action

As Bruce Springsteen said, “Come on, Rise Up”
Blog Post
July 25, 2017

Continuing our series of inspiring stories from speakers at #RiseLocal, this week's blog is authored by Lenny Mendonca, Director Emeritus, McKinsey and Laura Tyson, Director, Institute for Business & Social Impact.

We don’t need to drink coffee in the morning anymore.  All we need to do is open our overnight CNN newsfeeds or turn on FOX News or MSNBC to get our blood pressure up and get fired up for the day.  Don’t get us started on looking at @realdonaldtrump tweets trying to own the news cycle every day.  The nation is divided, government is broken, DC is a full of swamp creatures and progress is impossible.  So we are to believe if the center of the universe is inside the beltway.

Fortunately, we live on the other edge of the country, 2,500 miles and a light year away from that alternative universe.  What we see across the country is something totally different.  Challenges abound, but real action is happening not top down from Washington, DC but ground up – rising local.  Often working across sectors, frequently in non-partisan ways, real conversations are happening in local communities who wrestle problems to the ground and solve them.

Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans trust the federal government to do what is right, but nearly 2/3 trust their state governments and almost ¾ trust their local governments to handle problems.  Thankfully, that is where the action is happening, while DC drowns in dysfunction.  The 10th Amendment of the US Constitution says “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”.  Long live Judge Brandeis’ laboratories of democracy.  Federalism is back, this time as Federalism 2.0; Progressive Federalism.

There is a long and rich history of successful experiments. State and local governments were leaders in establishing public primary and secondary education systems, as well as state colleges and universities. California, Wyoming, and other states allowed women to vote – an example that encouraged passage of the Nineteenth Amendment (enfranchising all adult women). Welfare-to-work programs in Michigan and Wisconsin served as the model for federal welfare reform under President Bill Clinton, and Obamacare is based on Massachusetts’ health-care system, introduced under Republican Governor Mitt Romney.

Energy and climate change reduction is happening at the city and state level despite the US threatening to pull out of the Paris Agreement – in fact, in the last 15 years, 33 states cut carbon dioxide emissions while expanding their economies.  Half of all US states have now legalized marijuana in some form, with eight embracing full legalization. Three states have implemented laws offering paid family leave, with a fourth on the way. Nineteen states rang in 2017 with increases in their minimum wage.

The political struggle between red states and blue cities will continue to play out in judicial and legislative battles, while giving rise to new citizen-led initiatives. A new movement of grassroots progressive federalism, reflecting the powers conferred on citizens by the Tenth Amendment, has already begun to emerge. It is apparent in huge citizen marches, and in coordinated civil-society initiatives advocating for a national popular vote, congressional redistricting, automatic voter registration, and a higher minimum wage.

Trump did not accomplish much in his first 100 days. But he did unwittingly remind many Americans that the US Constitution delegates substantial political authority to states, cities, and individual citizens. And his administration has only further highlighted the importance of an independent judiciary, where the coming years’ battles among local, state, and federal government entities will be fought.

Check back every other Tuesday for a new story of local innovation, #RiseLocal. Next up, New America CA Fellow, Wayne Sutton, Co-Founder & CTO of Change Catalyst.