Fostering strong Communities and Country starts with a quality of Citizenship. An apt definition from Peter Block.
The Transpartisan Alliance will soon launch a Transpartisan Citizens Pledge drive to help catalyze a Citizen Empowerment movement. Peter Block’s definition and description of citizen is on point with what we have in mind. Think about your own ideas and expressions of “being an empowered citizen”. Enjoy. Walt
Chapter 6, Community: The Structure of Belonging
(Excerpt)……….The Meaning of Citizenship
The conventional definition of citizenship is concerned with the act of voting and taking a vow to uphold the constitution and laws of a country. This is narrow and limiting. Too many organizations that are committed to sustaining democracy in the world and at home have this constrained view of citizenship. Citizenship is not about voting, or even about having a vote. To construe the essence of citizenship primarily as the right to vote reduces its power as if voting ensures a democracy. It is certainly a feature of democracy, but as Fareed Zakaria points out in his book The Future of Freedom, the right to vote does not guarantee a civil society, or in our terms a restorative one.
When we think of citizens as just voters, we reduce them to being consumers of elected officials and leaders. We see this most vividly at election time, when candidates become products, issues become the message, and the campaign is a marketing and distribution system for the selling of the candidate. Great campaign managers are great marketers and product managers. Voters become target markets, demographics, whose most important role is to meet in focus groups to respond to the nuances of message. This is the power of the consumer, which is no power at all.
Through this lens, we can understand why so many people do not vote. They do not believe their action can impact the future. It is partly a self-chosen stance and partly an expression of the helplessness that grows out of a retributive world. This way of thinking is not an excuse not to vote, but it does say that our work is to build the capacity of citizens to be accountable and to become creators of community.
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We can see most clearly how we marginalize the real meaning of citizen when the word becomes politicized as part of the retributive debate. We argue over undocumented workers, immigration, and the rights of ex-felons–and even their children. We politicize the issue of English as the official language and building a new wall on the Rio Grande that we will have to tear down someday.
Citizenship as the willingness to build community gets displaced by isolationism in any form. It is not by accident that the loudest activists for finding and deporting undocumented workers are some of the leaders of the fear, oversight, safety, and security agenda. They are the key beneficiaries of the retributive society. If we want community, we have to be unwilling to allow citizenship to be co-opted in this way.
The idea of what it means to be a citizen is too important and needs to be taken back to its more profound value. Citizenship is a state of being. It is a choice for activism and care. A citizen is one who is willing to do the following:
· Hold oneself accountable for the well-being of the larger collective of which we are a part.
· Choose to own and exercise power rather than defer or delegate it to others.
· Enter into a collective possibility that gives hospitable and restorative community its own sense of being.
· Acknowledge that community grows out of the possibility of citizens. Community is built not by specialized expertise, or great leadership, or improved services; it is built by great citizens.
· Attend to the gifts and capacities of all others, and act to bring the gifts of those on the margin into the center.
The Inversion of Cause
To create communities where citizens reclaim their power, we need to shift our beliefs about who is in charge and where power resides. We need to invert our thinking about what is cause and what is effect. This is what has the capacity to confront our entitlement and dependency.
Being powerful means that my experience, my discovery, even my pleasure are mine to create. This view has us see how audiences create performances, children create parents, students create teachers, and citizens create leaders………