This post is my last one before I jump into the normal content of the blog: interviews with people. But before I begin posting those, I want to be honest about my own thoughts. Having read on the state of citizenship and learned about many organizations’ amazing work, I feel like I’m ready to write about what I think the keys to being a good citizen are.
A Class Discussion:
First, though, I want to share an anecdote that might explain why I feel so strongly about this subject. In a class I took in college, there was a reading on jury discrimination in post-Civil War Virginia. Many black men did not have the chance to serve on a jury because prosecutors feared that black jury members might make it harder to convict former slaves of accused crimes. As a result, many black defendants lacked the basic right of a jury of their peers, and many black men didn’t have the right to serve on juries. A federal judge took action and jailed several Virginian judges for violating the Constitution.
As my class debated whether the federal judge made the right choice, I realized how important it was for all of us to have conversations like that one. I learned how crucial our government system was, and how little I understood about it. More importantly, I recognized that being a citizen – listening to the potential crimes of my peers, voting for elected officials, being equal before the law – was not an opportunity many people have had. Being a citizen, then, was something to cherish. (For more on this story, see David Moss, Democracy: A Case Study).
The Five Keys:
This story and the discussion that day hint at many of the traits that I think are important to being a good citizen. At this moment, I think that the five keys to being a good citizen are:
- Informed advocacy. Advocacy without knowing about an issue is often not effective and can often be counterproductive. Knowing the topic is important, and so is knowing the candidates in an election.
- A willingness to listen. During class that day, people’s answers were quite varied. In fact, some of them made me uncomfortable. But in that class we had to listen, and then wait our turn to reply. This approach to public conversation would benefit us all.
- Compassion. We need to care about the well-being of our country and each other for all of us to thrive.
- Generation Citizen’s idea that we have to have confidence in our actions really resonated with me. It’s hard to remain engaged, and encourage others to engage, if we don’t believe in our value as citizens.
- A belief in the process. I think at the end of the day, people have to believe in democracy, its potential, and its workings for it to work.
Maybe the people I will talk to will talk about these same traits and actions. In some ways, though, I hope they don’t. I hope they challenge me to imagine citizenship as something different and show me that someone, anyone can be a good citizen in a variety of ways.