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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Civic Responsibility As a Citizen of Southern Ohio

civic responsibility is defined as "a socially good behavior to perform." While a civic duty is required by law, a civic responsibility is not necessarily required by law. Civic responsibilities can include participation in government or in church. They can also include being a volunteer or a member of voluntary associations. And, of course, actions of civic responsibility can be displayed in advocacy for various causes, such as political, economic, civil, environmental or quality of life issues.

Civic responsibility was officially sanctioned as a blueprint for democracy in 1787 by the ratification of the United States Constitution. The Constitution declared:

 "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide
for the common defense, promote the general welfare,
and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States."

Especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, civil responsibility in America was tied to the understanding of commonwealth citizenship. It was understood in terms of the labors of ordinary people who created goods and undertook projects to benefit the public, as opposed to the high-minded, virtuous and leisure activities of gentlemen. This kind of civic identify helped create an important balance between pursuit of individual wealth and the creation of public things.

(Harry Boye and Nancy N. Kari. "Renewing the Democratic Spirit in
American Colleges and Universities: Higher Education as Public Work."
In Higher Education and Civic Responsibility. 1999)

In the 1960s, nuclear threats, the war in Vietnam, and the civil rights movement caused many grassroots organizations to protest as citizens learned the value of expressing civic responsibility through marches, gatherings, and civil disobedience. At that time, people relied on each other in order to correct injustice and achieve greatness in the nation.

(R.D. Putnam, R.D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Renewal of American Community. 2000)

Citizens ensure and uphold certain democratic values written in the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights by engaging in civic responsibility. Those values or duties include justice, freedom, equality, diversity, authority, privacy, due process, property, participation, truth, patriotism, human rights, rule of law, tolerance, mutual assistance, self restraint and self respect.

Schools have the duty to teach civic responsibility to students with the goal being to produce responsible citizens and active participants in community and government.

In action and in mass, civic responsibility has great power, but it must be engaged by citizens who feel an obligation to participate. Each citizen should discover his or her own voice and its potential in order that they may work toward a common goal of allowing everyone to have the same basic human rights. To sit passively and ignore civic responsibility limits freedom. Civic responsibility starts with education about the problems of neighborhoods, towns and cities, states, and the nation.

Even before the ratification of the Constitution, on June 12, 1776, George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights became the first bill of rights created by the soon-to-be-independent states of America. It began by stating the simple but profound tenet that rights and privileges were vested in the individual. It refuted the long-held philosophy of the divine right of kings, which deemed that God vested all authority in monarchs and those rulers doled out rights and privileges to their subjects.

William E. White -- Vice President of Productions, Publications, and Learning Ventures for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and for Colonial Williamsburg’s educational media outreach programs -- reminds us of the importance of the document ...

"Instead, Virginians stated, rights were vested in the individual, who in turn granted rights and privileges to a government which is accountable to rule in the people's best interest. Article two stated the principle explicitly: 'That all power is vested in . . . the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants....' The purpose of government is to ensure the 'common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community.' The act of implementing these enlightenment ideals in the creation of Virginia's new government was truly revolutionary."

(William E. White. "Responsible Freedom." The Huffington Post. June 17, 2014)

In this new order, no inherited aristocracy and no special privileges were to be assigned to any individual. The power of the state was to be divided into separate branches of government able to check any abuses of power. Those who served in government were encouraged to return often to "private station" to participate in and experience "the burden of the people."

So, from the beginning, citizens of the United States of America have been instructed to practice civic responsibility to preserve democracy. It was a command to them and it remains a command to us living in America 229 years later -- in order to sustain self-government, each individual must learn, cultivate, and practice the qualities of responsible citizens in a republic.

We have reduced civic responsibility to voting, and that is too bad. History is ripe with wonderful stories of those who created new relationships between citizens and their government. So many of these historical accounts have little to do with government officials but instead speak of private citizens "doing the right thing at the right time." A voter merely casts a ballot allowing someone else to make decisions, but a responsible citizen goes far beyond that simple duty.

 White says ...

"These stories remind us that responsible citizens are engaged in their communities every day. Responsible citizens collaborate. They find common ground and compromise. They form coalitions to accomplish the things that are most important to them. History reminds us that it is our responsibility as citizens to be informed -- to educate ourselves and understand the issues. History reminds us that citizens with whom we disagree have strong ideas and opinions, and it is our responsibility to do our best to understand them.

"Most importantly, American history reminds us that we all share important, fundamental ideals. We all believe passionately in individual freedom as well as the necessity for equality. We all believe in the ownership of private property and also understand that we must build together the communities, states, and the nation in which we live. We all believe in the rule of law, but we also understand that government cannot legislate ethics. When asked to describe ourselves we declare that we are a unified American people, but we celebrate our differences and proudly identify with our racial, ethnic, national, and religious heritage."

(William E. White. "Teach Responsibility -- Teach History.
The Huffington Post. September 26, 2012)

So many people wait for a great leader to vanquish our enemies and to come to our rescue. We continually ask, "Why isn't someone making needed changes to bring power back to the people and stop injustice?"

Well, perhaps a mirror would be a helpful device. The truth is that we are the ones we have been waiting for -- the ones to make critical decisions, and we can do this only by exercising our civic responsibilities. Fight injustice and inequality to preserve our birthrights. Speak, walk, write, organize, and defy those in a system who defile the commonwealth and who continue to dole out special treatment to certain favored subjects. When you and I see the need for change, we must take action with our civic responsibility and protect the blueprint for democracy. Our children and grandchildren will gain the guarantee to be much safer as we step up.

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