I try to stay away from the political on the Island as much as possible. I know I wrote about my distaste for/loathing of Rush Limbaugh several months ago and showed my patriotism by attending the 2nd largest Fourth of July parade in the US (or so people tell me), but I've never been overtly political on this blog.
And I will not start today.
I'd rather spend today discussing citizenship and participation. By citizenship, I don't mean nationality or the legal rights to live in a place. What I mean is the other part of citizenship: the rights, privileges, and duties of being a citizen. I take being a citizen very seriously and you should too. Being a citizen is no laughing matter AND it is not something that any of us should take for granted ever. I did mean to shout when I typed that and. That's how important citizenship is to me. I was that kid in elementary school who got upset if I didn't win citizen of the month or get a good mark in citizenship on my report card. I still have the report cards to prove this.
We have a very powerful role in the way that our country works. Unfortunately, we tend to only think about what it means to actually be a citizen every four years during election cycles. We forget that citizenship is a 24/7, 365 day a year responsibility. Voting is only one part of being a citizen. It's a fundamental and very important part of being a citizen but it's not the only part. If you are voting this year, good work! I'm proud of you. You are participating and using your voice. We may not agree on the candidate or the issue (or maybe we do-who knows?) but I like you and appreciate you. If I was at the polling place with you, I'd give you a gold star to wear along with your "I Voted" sticker. I care about voting that much.
Seriously, I get mad and feel ill when people tell me they're not voting. Why is this even a choice a person would make? Do you really want other people to be your voice? That doesn't even make sense to me. And don't tell me it's because you're tried of the rhetoric or the negativity of the campaigns. I get that but I also know that if you don't vote, you can't change either of those things. Your voice and vote matter. So make it happen, Patriots. Get out and vote.
And yes I understand that we all have a choice in life especially when it comes to voting or not voting. That's part of being American and having freedom and all. I just think it's a bad choice and you know, I only want you to make good choices. Because I care.
Voting is not the only way we exercise our citizenship. Paying taxes, serving on a jury, taking your garbage out on the appointed day, volunteering your time to a cause - these are also ways in which we participate in our communities and our nation. Many of these things seem like chores and are boring but they're important for the social fabric of our nation. And I think we've forgotten one of the most fundamental ideas of citizenship.
Being nice to one another.
If I learned anything from my teaching days, it's that teenagers have a hard time understanding the larger concept of citizenship because the majority of the actual activities typically associated with citizenship are activities that they are not really able to participate in. You know what they do understand? Being nice to people. And caring about the community they live in. When I taught civics (particularly 9th grade civics), I spent a lot of time discussing these aspects of citizenship. And I think that my students got it. I keep up with many of them on the FB and they seem to be living extraordinary and interesting lives. Many are politically active (high five!) and seem to be good citizens (double high five!). I'm proud of them and hope they pass that down to the next generation.
In honor of my former students and because I want you all to participate, here are 10 non-boring, non-political ways that you can be a good citizen:
- Put your shopping cart in the shopping cart return area rather than leaving it in a parking spot. If you can't return it to the return area for a legit reason (being in a hurry is not a legit reason by the way), at least try to leave it in such a way that would not prohibit the next person from parking in the spot.
- When driving and trying to merge into a lane, wave when a person lets you in. They didn't have to and it will make them happy that they did.
- If someone drops something, pick it up for them and return it.
- Hold open doors for people. I come from the South where people, particularly men, do this naturally and without pause. The rest of the country needs to get on board with this.
- Talk on your cell phone in appropriate places and at appropriate volumes. For real, I don't care how much of a jerk so and so is, turn the volume down because it's early and I just want to enjoy my coffee.
- Volunteer your time to an organization or cause. Make sure you pick something that you truly believe in and are passionate about.
- Agree to disagree. And move on. If someone believes in something you will more than likely not be able to change their minds. It's not worth frustration, screaming, and a stream of curse words (and I swear like a sailor sometimes so I get it). Just agree to disagree and move onto a topic that's less controversial like the fact that puppies are cute.
- Go to the Fourth of July parades/events in your city or town. Seriously, nothing is better than a parade and you can't get better than a Fourth of July parade.
- Get a library card and use it. I love, love, love libraries and I fear for their safety some days. Reading is fundamental friends but libraries are also so much more. They can be the center of a community. Libraries often host events too (book clubs, lectures, artist talks, family events). There's something for everyone at your local library.
- Be nice to people. If the Dearborn Police can put this on the side of their cruisers, each and every one of us can do it in our daily lives (see above photo). It takes more energy to be a jerk.
Happy citizening! (Yes, that is a made up word but isn't it glorious?!)
And because I borrowed a little from a Beastie Boys song, here you go. Kick it!