Thursday, September 21, 2006
Citizenship and Community
Citizenship was a part of classroom instruction I remember from the 4th grade. We learned about being neighborly, polite and the ever-popular "Golden Rule". We learned about why it was important to throw trash in a recepticle instead of on the ground. We were educated on the importance of showing up and telling the truth. We began our relationship with common sense and duty. It was the beginning of instilling the import of public service and fairplay. Today Citizenship means scarcely more than voting (maybe, if I have time...) and jury duty (God I hope I can out of it...).
What Citizenship really means is a sense of belonging, participating and caring about the community you live in. A socialization of values and personal responsibility. Citizenship implies working towards the betterment of one's community through participation, volunteer work and efforts directed at improvement of life for all citizens. This to be sure, includes voting, jury duty and picking up trash. But it also means noticing and speaking up when you see basic rights and freedoms of the community you live in slipping away. The responsibilities and tasks it takes to run our homes and do our jobs we tend to take for granted that these same responsibilities and tasks are necessary in the larger public sphere. It hasn't been made easy to show up and do your civic duty. Oh yeah, no free rides, you don't something for nothing, Freedom isn't free.
Over the centuries since our birth as a nation, these rights and responsibilities have been thwarted by the powers that be. A brand of control and domination that has taken the form of no voting rights for African Americans and Women, poll taxes, 'voter tests' and now, the current criminal vote-stealing machines and dirty tricks played by the GOP corruption machine. Certainly this is not a complete list but you get the idea that government thinking has been "What can we get away with?"
Citizenship as defined by the Bush administration demonstrates next-to-nothing of these values we all learned. This White House's policy for Americans is to shut up and do what you're told regardless of what The Constitution says. People that speak up are silenced in any number of ways from false imprisonment and torture to ruining your reputation and infringing upon your ability to pursue your livelihood. If you read the recently posted partial list of BushCo atrocities or you read here or elsewhere in the liberal blogosphere, you have some sense of the depth and breadth this violent right-wing massacre of civil rights has taken.
They treat us like children who haven't the good sense to make a proper decision about our own futures. When we refuse to go to the trouble of voting or speaking out or writing a letter about the injustices or demanding that we have a fair and investigative media not owned by only six mega-conglomerates that use, without charge, the PUBLIC airwaves and depend upon that very government they are lapdogs to, to change laws and let their corporate interests super-flourish like never before, what do we expect? When we can't be bothered because of the time and effort it takes to show up, the inconvenience of it all, the difficulty of access to polling places ("You're polling place is on Jupiter, under a Moose Lodge, behind a donut shop in the basement of a school, good luck" -Kathleen Madigan)and given all we need to do to have a decent life, who can blame anyone for saying, "I just can't do it now, I'm too busy, someone else will do it"? You are someone else. To borrow the slogan from Nike, "Just Do It" No one of us can do this alone without help, that's what citizenship is; a community of people coming together to better the lives of all its members.
Zephyr Teachout, founder of The Sunlight Foundation,says if very succintly, "If we don't have a culture of citizenship, we don't have a Democracy, it's that fundamental"