My Interest in Citizenship
Like most young people, I spent the first twenty years of my life mildly disinterested in politics. I voted in the 2012 presidential election, a moment of personal pride. But, outside of getting my license, I didn’t really interact with the government. I never voted in a local election and rarely thought about my town’s needs. I didn’t even consider doing those things. During college, though, I took a class on American democracy that changed my feelings about politics. Class discussion made it clear to me that normal, everyday citizens like myself mattered. As I watched friends join protests and political groups, I realized I wanted to contribute, too.
I spent the rest of college reading about citizens’ duties and tried to figure out how we could all be good citizens. I spent time studying the history of civics education and thinking about remedies to our current lack of engagement.
But the more I read, the more I realized that citizenship, or really, failed citizenship, is a catch-all explanation for whatever it is that people think ails our country. A lot of people are willing to declare that democracy is dying. Even more seem willing to say people don’t care about our democracy anymore.
The Trip: A Chance to Talk to American Citizens
In the wake of the most recent election, I felt that this topic was as timely as ever. The way people downplay others’ rights and others’ American-ness felt like someone needed to ask: what is a good citizen today?
How am I going to get answers? I am going to road-trip across the country and talk to the best possible source: Americans from as many different jobs and backgrounds as possible. Over three months, I hope to see many cities and towns in our country’s famous belts, the Rust Belt and the Sun Belt.
There are many things I am hoping to learn on this trip. I want to know if despite painful political divisions in our country, most American citizens still agree on the basics of what our country requires from us. Specifically, I am curious whether we all agree on certain traits or beliefs as key to being good citizens.
But as I talk to people, I also want to dig into their stories of citizenship. I want to figure out whether people think they, themselves, are good citizens and whether other members of their community are good citizens. Perhaps more importantly, I want to see whether people think people of both political parties are good citizens. And I want to know why they feel the way they do about this question, regardless of whether they say yes or no. More than anything, I want to know two things. First, do people believe that citizenship matters? And, if it does, how we can all be better citizens?
The Blog: Citizens’ Stories
This blog will follow this journey to the center of our country, to the heart of our culture, and to the beliefs and stories of our citizens. I will sometimes post-full interviews; others I’ll offer a great quote or analysis of a group of interviews. I will also write about how the trip challenges my own ideas about being a citizen and political views. Perhaps following my work will help some people figure out what they need to do as citizens for our country to flourish. Most of all, I hope that for all the problems we face, I’ll show we still agree on quite a lot.
If you have thoughts on my project or would like to speak about citizenship, you can email [email protected] You can also fill out the contact form. Likewise, you can find the trip on Instagram (the_citizens_story) or on Twitter (citizens_story).