Some leaders, if one could call them that, in the federal government have promised radical change that would benefit the American people by protecting their money and their prosperity. But we’ve hardly seen anything remotely close to that change. There have only been slight nudges in “popular” directions, as if the powers that be are just trying shut us up.

If there is any change to be had, the successful trend has been to do it on the local, municipal level. The current and planned major reforms all seem to be happening beneath the federal level; marijuana reform, the criminal justice system, and banking.

America’s war on drugs isn’t working. The country has wasted trillions of dollars and has crammed the prison systems with non-violent drug offenders. In Seattle, there have already been radical changes similar to what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for in his address to the American Bar Association in San Francisco weeks ago.

The City of Seattle, four years ago, began a program called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD). Rather than pile drug offenders into jail cells and leave them there, LEAD places such offenders with social workers who will refer them to living assistance services and companies that will “hire people with criminal backgrounds.” Law enforcement officers have attested to the growing success of LEAD. “People we’ve dealt with over and over and over again are getting treatment and getting into housing and getting jobs,” said Seattle police lieutenant, Deanna Nollette.  

Even Texas, which is notorious for being a “tough on crime” state, has implemented similar changes and has seen remarkable results. The state has cut billions from its prisons and reinvested a portion of that money into rehabilitation programs. Violent crimes fell by 20,000 from 2007 to 2011, and property crimes dropped fivefold.

Nearly all the marijuana reform laws have occurred on the municipal or state levels. Just this month, Illinois became the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana and, this year, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for adult, recreational use. Even our nation’s capitol has the legalization of medical marijuana on its docket. Bit by bit, the recognition of marijuana’s harmlessness, and even its benefits, is growing. But for some reason, federal lawmakers on Capitol Hill are stalling on the issue and not pressing hard enough for federal marijuana reform.

Cities are even looking to take banking out of the hands of Wall Street, and place it in their own. The City of San Francisco is now very hopeful in the creation of its own city-supported bank. A recent and recognized legal opinion by SF Deputy City Attorney Thomas J. Owen dictates that a city-owned bank is lawful, as opposed to the long-standing interpretation of California Government Code 23007, which “prohibits a county from giv[ing] or loan[ing] its credit to or in aid of any person or corporation.”

However, Owen was able to refute California Government Code 23007 by indicating the fact that “San Francisco is a ‘chartered city and county,’” and because it is, San Francisco is not subject to that California state statute. Fed up with the corporate banks and lack of regulation and oversight of the banks’ criminal behavior, citizens and city lawmakers are positioning themselves to break free of their reliance on the big banks.

While politicians in D.C. are ping-ponging back and forth with policy, doing more talking than acting, governments on lower levels are rolling up their sleeves and are actually making changes for the betterment of their citizens. For too long now have federal lawmakers remained in a cesspool of corporate interest and stagnant policy, doing nothing but drafting and redrafting stale revisions of outdated policy.  

Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.