People talk about civic engagement as if it is the bane of existence for the average citizen. Things trivial as voting are viewed as a burden and not all are privileged to say that. Democracy is not a system for the privileged- it is a system for those seeking justice. Democracy ensures that the ideas of those marginalized will be retained and heard. Modern democracy has been taking shape since society grew too large to decide everything by consensus. The notion of democracy in the United States invites the idea that we are as citizens equal in the eyes of the law, our voices are equally as important as the collective, and that we retain rights as individuals. In the Gardens of Democracy by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer they compare citizenship to consumerism. They bring about the idea that we as individuals have adopted a “what is in it for me” attitude about citizenship and democracy that is created by the capitalistic culture we abide in. Citizenship is no longer about showing up to every aspect of life. For yourself. For your children. For your neighbors. For even your enemies. The roots of citizenship however are based in community. As individuals we have our own strengths, but we are stronger as a community. Liu and Hanauer argue that the messy and human parts of life are something we are removing ourselves from in our society—the things that bring us together as citizens. Making tough choices, exercising both rights and responsibilities. The saying is it takes a village to raise a child, and it should. It is the duty of our communities to look after one another and come together to make choices. Liu and Hanauer argue, “Citizenship matters because it delivers for society what neither the market or the state should… citizenship is quite simply the work of being in public,”(51). This is the ultimate truth of 21st century citizenship. In a world where anything can be delivered by the click of a button, a world where phone calls are becoming obsolete, the act of being in public, in community is essential to the functioning of our democracy. Being a citizen is not just about being engaged on a politic level, it showing kindness to all of your neighbors. It is shopping locally and fostering relationships with your community. It is understanding how to find common ground. How to have tough conversations with people you love and respect. It takes a village to raise a child, but also an adult. Citizenship is a path that leads to responsible adults in a community. In a world where hiding behind a screen is easy, being a citizen is tough; but it doesn’t have to be.
(Book referenced is The Gardens of Democracy by Liu and Hanauer).