Are You A Citizen of the United States Or Just A Resident?
Over time more and more people in America have slowly moved away from participating in social self-governance. This is a very big problem for our democracy and a great opportunity for those that want to fill the void to use government for their personal gain. Preoccupied with work and the other demands of day-to-day living, many people have tuned out the state of governmental affairs. Who wants to come home after a hard day to listen to the current chaos of local, national and global issues? The American people just don’t seem to have the time or energy to engage. Some don’t have any interest at all in how society operates. Some vote, but many do not. Others might only engage if an issue affects them negatively, or even worse, if they are manipulated by fear. But most do not get involved to the detriment of everyone. What has happened to the American Citizen?
It seems our contemporary culture makes it easy to simply be a resident of America. A resident is someone who just lives here with no sense of responsibility to the running of their democracy beyond the pursuit of their own self interest and perhaps in some cases, those of their immediate family.
Many of us have forgotten that our individual freedom to pursue our personal version of our national goal of living a happy life comes with a pledge of allegiance to our country which is a pledge to do our part for not only our selves, but for our fellow Americans. Citizens keep abreast of current issues, attend town meetings, speak up in public, volunteer in their community and participate in the self governance process. They do it with selfless pride and enthusiasm, not out of a sense of obligation.
At one time, most Americans were willing to endure personal sacrifices and even risk their own lives to protect the Union with all of the rights and freedoms it provided them as well as others. Now this falls upon just a few who volunteer when needed to fight external wars. We call them patriots. Meanwhile internal social wars wage as we have let our government become dysfunctional due to a lack of active participation. While we honor those who serve in the military, we must not forget that there other ways to serve the country that are just as essential to both protect and operate our democracy. If the average American sits passively at home as a resident, what type of a country are we asking our patriots to defend?
We have forgotten that the responsibility of citizenry is not a burden, but is rather a privilege and a right that early Americans fought and died for. Even today, people all over the world are dying for the right and privilege to govern themselves. The uprisings in the Middle East are the most recent examples. Millions have turned out to protest wanting a voice in their government. These people, like all human beings, want to live freely in a fair and just society; one that is not ruled by an elite class of dictators, no matter how benevolent they might be. Some will argue this is exactly what is happening in America today as massive amounts of wealth and power become concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. While it may be difficult for many to hear in a society that has grown lazy expecting convenience and opportunity handed to them, the responsibility to ensure a fair and just society is not just a burden that falls upon those few souls who are brave enough to risks their lives. Nor is it just the responsibility of those elected to public office. In a democracy, it is everyone’s responsibility.
And using perhaps the most extreme example of our day, our democracy has become so dysfunctional that most residents do not even want to pay for the wars that our patriots fight and die in. Not only do they not want to put forth any effort to engage, they do not want to contribute financially to support the effort. At one time, the entire country pulled together and sacrificed to support war efforts. Now politicians give tax breaks at war time, trying to “buy” popular support among residents, building up massive debts and military spending using the government credit card. People, including the wealthiest among us, whine about having to pay more, resisting any tax increases. Corporations, even those that profit the most from war, spend millions on lobbyists and on campaign contributions to stop any tax increases while supporting increased government spending for their defense programs. Another less extreme example would be increasing public benefits like the prescription drug program to the benefit of the pharmaceutical industry without asking the public to pay for it. Adept at speaking without saying anything meaningful, professional politicians, eager to get reelected, are more than willing to comply with the popular opinion of residents who want more benefits without having to contribute more to pay for them, and win the financial support of corporations at the same time. While people want to blame politicians and the government, it is the residents of our country who are ultimately responsible for this problem.
UNLIKE Residents, Citizens recognize false and misleading information used in the media by keeping abreast of current issues. Citizens are not easily manipulated by others trying to make them afraid of or become angry at government because they know it is really a way of separating them from their own government. It is a way of dividing the public to control the public. We must acknowledge that there are people in power who do not want Americans to act as well informed, responsible citizens. Without a strong citizen government in place, they will gladly step in to manipulate public opinion and politicians to use government for their own selfish purposes. As one example, multi-national corporations which have no loyalties to any nation are active influencing governments all over the world. Their purpose is to make money for their shareholders. They see countries as markets and residents as consumers. They know that in order to influence government either through legislative, appropriation and regulatory processes, it is much easier to keep people confused and distrustful of their government. They turn fear or blame into action or inaction depending upon what is needed, to manage government operations to benefit them. They know it is much easier to manipulate residents who are either turned off or turned away from serious thinking about important issues than concerned Citizens who become educated by objectively listening to all sides before formulating an opinion.
GOVERNMENT In a democracy was never meant to become a separate part of society to where “We The People” view it as something acting independent of us. Residents easily point to government as a problem in their lives. They forget that they are collectively as a group of individuals responsible for it because it is literally their own government. Today if career politicians continue to fail, it is their fault, not ours. We must break this cycle of playing the blame game. As this perspective has become more culturally embedded, it has become a very dangerous pathogen in our democracy.
As a result, too many Americans have become either turned off, too close-minded and one sided. What is needed are Citizens who are open minded and fair, who don’t get fooled by others who use extreme examples, rare exceptions and short sound bites to discredit complex government programs in order to support policies that benefit them. Citizens want to fix problems, close loopholes, make programs better, reduce programs when appropriate, address core problems, eliminate waste – not make government the problem. They look for the “money trail” of who is to profit from legislation to understand the political and corporate forces backing it. Using sound reason combined with an honest desire to do what is best for the common good, Citizens are willing listen, want to learn, develop an opinion, take a stand, are willing to compromise, make sacrifices and actively engage as many times as needed for the good of themselves, their family, their local community and their country. For Citizens, it is just being civil, treating others like they would like to be treated. They act responsibly on behalf of all Americans, and want to see their precious tax dollars directed in appropriate ways that provide maximum benefit for society. And this does not mean giving blank checks to increase individual dependency on government or to corporations profiting from greater government spending.
WHILE Nearly every American likes the sound of – “the government of the people, by the people and for the people” – sadly for many of us, the meaning of these words has been forgotten. Residents hear only words in a nice verse. Citizens get inspired and hear a call to engage. Those famous words enshrined at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC infer quite clearly that people are the government and that we, the American people, have the responsibility to self govern ourselves. When Citizens engage to serve, they do it mindfully with intention to determine the best direction for their community and their country. They engage out of a genuine desire to be of public service, not just to serve those who support them as is so common today. Simply engaging because your government benefit is being cut does not make you a Citizen either. It is just another form of lobbying for financial benefits. While running for public office is one way to serve, there are many ways of getting involved including writing letters, sending emails, talking to friends and family about important issues, volunteering for public appointments, attending rallies or serving on public boards. When we do these things to give a part of ourselves to our country and our fellow Americans, we become Citizens of Our democracy and assume Our power as the rightful stewards of Our country.
More than ever, it is time for the American people to take charge. Standard political activism is not enough. Without a sense of responsibility to others and to the common good, Americans will only get more swings back and forth between the conservative right and the liberal left, when what is needed is a leap forward. To do this, we need to think from our hearts, not just from our minds, about what is in the best interest for everyone.
Finally, American Citizens share common ideals and values, especially the respect and concern for others. Individual freedom without respect and concern for others becomes an uncivilized free-for-all. But when combined with the understanding that it is a welcomed duty, honor and responsibility to actively participate in the self governmental process of our democracy, it becomes something very powerful that our country’s founding fathers envisioned. When the people of any nation unite under a common intention that is built upon the higher bonds of common ideals and values, they become the most powerful force on earth. The strength of our Union comes not from the number of individuals willing to serve, but from the combined strength of our common bonds and our intentions of who we are serving. If we act to serve only ourselves, we destroy our sense of community (or Common Unit) and Our country. It is true that “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” This understanding of serving for each other put into action is what made America great. So let’s move in a new direction and begin to work together as Citizens to build even a better nation. Now is our time to step up as Citizens of the United States to uplift Our Country and the world to new levels of peace, prosperity and happiness beyond anything that we have experienced before.