Citizenry, Citizen and Citizenship – Part I of II

Beyond Ideological Labels

By Jorge D. H. Prosperi 2019

Does a label lead to labeling or the other way around? When does a label become synonymous with a product or a concept? How about Citizenry, Citizen and Citizenship? What are their associated labels, synonyms and surnames?

Our truly amazing brain tends to instantaneously label by way of imprinted prior learning, experiences, images, language and predispositions. Even new learning is influenced by prior learned labels swimming in our brain cells ready to make those innumerable magical instant connections that we count on to recognize, identify and define – make some sense of our daily lives. Our senses play a vital role in identifying and labeling circumstances, people and the world we inhabit. Everything and everyone seems to be labeled – advertisers and marketers count on it . . . so do politicians.

Labels also connect to our identity – our origin, ancestry, who we think we have been, are and may be becoming. The theory of Labels and Labeling emerged in the 1960s via sociologists and psychologists trying to provide answers for the complex human conditions and behaviors.

In political arenas, labels such as Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Moderate, Democrat, Republican, Independent and/or Egalitarian have been normalized with increasing absolute definitions. These labels now box individuals into boxes. The words themselves call for each group to go to their un-neutral corners – ergo division is ready-made for unscrupulous politicians to use, abuse and herd the grassing sheep.

Unfortunately, there are two labels often left out dealing with “Citizenry”- Citizen and Citizenship. What is alarming to me is the lack of importance, significance and relevance that these labels represent. What is unnerving is that these labels are crucial filters by which to critically examine each element of the quality of life of each citizen – regardless of their label(s) and zip codes.

The originators of our founding declarations created documents that were dynamic not static. The founding tenets, by their nature, require amplification. Democracy, Rule of Law, Rights, Justice, Equity are highly complex and multifaceted concepts impacting the quality of life on Citizenry. Each principle has an inherent challenge, advocacy and is a determinant on the quality of each life of each citizen.

The originators who dared to express such global human core values were eight refugees – signers of the Declaration of Independence that could be considered the first Citizens working on a vision, mission and core values of Citizenship. These eight immigrants immigrated to a land not their own, seeking a new life based on their belief of independence and freedom to live, work and pray as they wished by choice and design. They were intrigued by the possibilities of “choices” and their “designs” by which to live a life of worth with Dignity, Decency, Integrity, Credibility – all of such elements impacting Principles.

I can’t help think each time I see a rendering of the original signers, be it the 8 or the 56, that all of them look as if they were still in England, wearing English attire, most likely speaking with an English accent and remembering English cultural traditions. Regardless, they were ready to look forward with courage to a new life that promised freedom, but with sacrifices and challenges. Many of them would lose their lands, families and life for their declaration that eventually became ours.

Historians debate the actual date that the Declaration of Independence was signed – endorsed. For example was the document signed on August 2, 1776 by 8 immigrants from England or at the Second Continental Congress representing the 13 former colonies on July 4, 1776 by 56 immigrants from England?

While we can quibble over specific dates, we can count on the fact that all of these Englishmen were IMMIGRANTS . . . followed by countless caravans of immigrants from every corner of the world crossing oceans with little else than their humble possessions. They came from small hamlets, crowded cities, farms and factories. Not all had passports, visas and working papers. Not all spoke the same language, looked alike, worshiped alike, dressed alike, were educated alike. Many never saw the inside of a school sacrificing so that one day their children would.

Regardless of differences and without knowing, each immigrant that followed was connected to the original 8 / 56 immigrants with their unique story – a story that would be woven into the Diversity’s Threads of a united nation. ALL immigrants were born in different countries and did not arrive as citizens. Immigrants, unless they were Native, arrived with different labels and reasons for immigrating. For some it was asylum from oppression, seeking religious expression, surviving genocide, escaping poverty, hunger, civil wars, revolutions, dictators, political demagogues and/or terrorism from violent organized crime and gangs.

All past and current citizens have an immigration story – a legacy to share.

As President Barak Obama shared with naturalized citizens who had raised their right hands in 2015, “Scripture tells us, – For we are strangers before you, and sojourners, as were all our fathers. We are strangers before you.”

Immigrants at Ellis Island USA

“In the Mexican immigrant today, we see the Catholic immigrant of a century ago. In the   Syrian seeking refuge today, we should see the Jewish refugee of World War II. In these new Americans, we see our own American stories — our parents, our grandparents, our aunts, our uncles, our cousins who packed up what they could and scraped together what they had. And their paperwork wasn’t always in order. And they set out for a place that was more than just a piece of land, but an idea…….. It wasn’t always easy for new immigrants.”

“Certainly it wasn’t easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves. There was discrimination and hardship and poverty.  But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before  them. And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more. . . .

“And the biggest irony of course was – is that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants. How quickly we forget. One generation passes, two generations pass, and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from. And we suggest that somehow there is “us” and there is “them,” not remembering we used to be “them.”

“On days like today, we need to resolve never to repeat mistakes like that again. We must resolve to always speak out against hatred and bigotry in all of its forms — whether taunts against the child of an immigrant farmworker or threats against a Muslim shopkeeper. We are Americans.”

“Standing up for each other is what the values enshrined in the documents in this room compels us to do -– especially when it’s hard.  Especially when it’s not convenient.  That’s when it counts. That’s when it matters — not when things are easy, but when things are hard.”

“But there’s something unique about America. We don’t simply welcome new immigrants, we don’t simply welcome new arrivals — we are born of immigrants. That is who we are. Immigration is our origin story. And for more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character; it’s our oldest tradition. It’s who we are.”

American Citizenship is not a label but its inherent advocacy. It is about pro-active responsibilities. It is about continuing to recognize and maintain inalienable rights. American Citizenship is about believing in the capacity of our nation to approach its complexities and at times its insidious history without fear in order to not repeat the same mistakes.

The essence of Citizenship selflessly seeks higher ground and the pursuit of opportunities of worth not only for ourselves and our children, but for others and their children. Citizenship allows for us, without fear, to maintain our heritage uniting to solve national and international challenges as neighbors across zip codes and state borders.

As President Obama urged us to remember as he spoke at the National Archives Washington, D.C. in 2015,

“That is what makes America great — not just the words on these founding documents, as precious and valuable as they are, but the progress that they’ve inspired. If you ever wonder whether America is big enough to hold multitudes, strong enough to withstand the forces of change, brave enough to live up to our ideals even in times of trial, then look to the generations of ordinary citizens who have proven again and again that we are worthy of that.”

In this respect each Citizen is a leader with their personal power of influence called Citizenship to pro-actively seek the greater good – with authenticity and honesty inspiring and unifying.

A benevolent Citizen calls out for our better angels – instilling hope, resisting and confronting with courage social -isms and phobias.

An educated, astute, responsible, conscientiously conscious Citizenry – is ever actualizing – authenticating – amplifying her/his inherent Citizenship . . . in human terms.

End of Part I of II – Go to Part II