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

What It Means to Be a Citizen

Chapter 6, Community:  The Structure of Belonging

by Peter Block, Berrett-Koehler, 2008

(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.

* * *

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………

2 Responses to “Fostering strong Communities and Country starts with a quality of Citizenship. An apt definition from Peter Block.”
  1. Jim Newcomer says:

    The element of Block’s excellent prescription that has to be inserted here is the local nature of the community he envisions. If I take this attitude toward a national political network that is overwhelmed by money from corporations and unions, I am like the solitary man in Tiananmen Square standing steadfast but doomed as the tanks rolled over him. But if I apply it to my city or neighborhood or town, a community in which most participants are known by the others, it makes sense. People of different beliefs can’t polarize in the way that large government bodies, removed from daily life by corporate money, do.
    Not only does Block’s Inversion of Cause make sense, it may occur spontaneously because of the need to simplify political life as the national system grows over-complex and ungovernable from the center. An example of spontaneous discovery of Block’s “shift in belief about… where power resides” occurred last summer when Transition PDX sponsored a Forum on the draft Portland, Oregon, Climate Action Plan. Participants divided into 8 groups, one for each of the Goal areas in the plan, e.g., Urban Form and Mobility, Food, Buildings and Energy, etc. When they reported on their separate conversations, 5 of the groups converged on this theme of citizenship independent of one another. They all saw the need for local neighborhood citizens to transform from consumers of government to co-creators, people who could discover the needs of their neighborhood, translate them into plans independent of city government, apply for government approval, and then use civic funds to carry out the construction or whatever would be needed, on their own. Their common realization was that in order to accomplish the demanding tasks that may befall cities in the future, the government will have to rely on more efficient ways of gathering and assessing information than its ordinary, silo-separated bureaus. Citizen groups will have to become the proposers and coordinators of action in future; that was the common suggestion of all these discussion groups.
    Obviously this is not a workable prescription for a Federal government. It is, rather, a realization that in communities of a few hundred or even thousand people living in proximity – and the key is: where citizens are known to one another – it may be the most efficacious and satisfying path to a resilient future.
    I loved Block’s book. There is so much in it. In fact I would like to start a study group this spring to go through it with other sophisticated readers and mine it for insights in how we work. So I invite any of your readers in Portland = and you too, Walt – to contact me if you are interested.
    Jim Newcomer

  2. Jim Newcomer says:

    I want to include my email address with my invitation in the preceding comment. Apparently I have write it out in prose to be accepted by the service. So here it is for anyone who wants to join me in a study group: jnewcomer (at) spiretech (dot) com.

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