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Citizenship | Responsibility of All Citizens

Citizens have the privilege and duty
to elect office holders and influence public policy. 

“The people are responsible for the character of their Congress. 
If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because
the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. 
If it be intelligent, brave, and pure,
it is because the people demand these high qualities…
If the next centennial does not find us a great nation…
it will be because those who represent the enterprise,
the culture, and the morality of the nation
      do not aid in controlling the political forces.”    

Rev. James A. Garfield (1831-1881)
    United States President, Minister of the Gospel

  • Abraham Lincoln.  When he dedicated the cemetery at Gettysburg, he spoke of “the great task remaining before us”—the task of preserving a free and democratic government. The work of carrying out that task is not finished, and it never will be. It will always require active citizens to maintain a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”   (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 19 November 1863)

  • John F. Kennedy.  "And so, my fellow Americans:  ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."  (35th President of the U.S., inauguration address, January 20, 1961)

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel.   “Multiculturalism is a sham that has utterly failed.  “Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies.  Refugees need to assimilate into German culture, respect the country’s laws, and contribute to their communities."  (German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “Chancellor of the Free World,” Person of the Year, Time Magazine, "Islamic Threat," CBN News, December 2015; and the Washington Post) 

  • Eleanor Roosevelt:  "Learning to be a good citizen is learning to live to the maximum of one’s abilities and opportunities, and every subject should be taught every child with this in view.”   Eleanor saw producing citizens as the true purpose of education.   (Eleanor Roosevelt, “Good Citizenship: The Purpose of Education,” Pictorial Review 31, no. 4 (April 1930): 316)

  • Thomas Jefferson:  “A nation, as a society, forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.”  (Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to George Hammond, 29 May 1792)

  • Oscar Arias:  "Democracy cannot survive as a matter of institutions alone. It relies ultimately on the conscience and care of each citizen. . . . So individuals and individual choices do matter: the effect of one upright individual is incalculable. World leaders may see their effect in headlines, but the ultimate course of the globe will be determined by the efforts of innumerable individuals acting on their consciences."   (source:  Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, quoted in Rushworth M. Kidder, Shared Values for a Troubled World: Conversations with Men and Women of Conscience (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994), 269; emphasis in original)

  • Peter Block:  "A citizen is one who is willing to be accountable for and committed to the well-being of the whole. That whole can be a city block, a community, a nation, the earth. A citizen is one who produces the future, someone who does not wait, beg, or dream for the future."  (source:  The antithesis of being a citizen is the choice to be a consumer or a client. Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008), 63)

  • Today many people are withdrawing from civic life.  The ability of democratic societies to bring together diverse views, critically examine arguments, and take action continues to erode.  This is a problem for us because we need governments and civil society to work reasonably well.   Inevitably, deliberative processes hold conflicting points of view. When that happens, active citizens don’t give up but look for common ground and seek to build on a foundation of common understanding. We build relationships, coalitions, and networks as we patiently strive to reach joint decisions.

    There is no question that serious deliberation with people we don’t agree with can be slow and frustrating.  We make much more progress when we put aside the idea that people who don’t agree with us are ignorant of the facts, stupid, or evil and focus instead on what we have in common.  Active citizens must strive to synthesize and reconcile conflicting views, values, and priorities. This is not easy to do, as it requires that we place the well-being of all on an equal footing and that we always balance the common good against individual claims.

    One of the best examples of this type of deliberative process is the convention that produced the U.S. Constitution. The delegates came from different regions of the country, with strong and conflicting personal and regional interests. In creating a written constitution for a new form of government, they were attempting something that had never been done before. What they shared in common was a commitment to some very basic principles of freedom and governance. It took months of collaboration and, at times, contentious discussion, but the result has blessed the lives of millions.

    Active citizens make decisions and take action. Active citizens realize that obtaining knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is not enough, and that discussion is essential but insufficient. Deliberation must result in action. Agency implies both the ability and the responsibility to act for the accomplishment of our purposes. Active citizens produce the future; they do not simply wait for it or dream about it.  (Citizenship, by Lawrence C. Walters, BYU Speeches, April 1, 2014)
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