Critical Citizenry In The 21st Century

“All Aboard!”

By Jorge D. H. Prosperi 2019

The 2020 presidential election is upon us. It seems that each cycle is compressed into fewer months. With each election season we seem to come out of Citizenry-Hibernation. In hoards we head towards a starting line waiting for signals from well marketed and advertised campaigns targeting established “bases” to do their civic duty.

Civic Duty – wonder if and when it is ever discussed during our 12 years of formal schooling? If it is, if and when? What happens to the “learning” after senior year graduation? How is it nurtured and mentored in adults?

The ballot box is said to be the venerated space where Citizens come to terms with Citizenship. A time and space where Citizens make their voices heard. The day we vote (or not) is said to be among the most precious and guarded. Is it really?

What about the other 264 days X 4 years? That’s 1,460 days minus one. Wow! That means that within a four year cycle an infant will celebrate four birthdays, enter pre-school, some will graduate from elementary, middle school and high schools. Others will achieve a college degree, masters, PhD. The vast majority will enter professions, be they carpenters, nurses, plumbers, lawyers, roofers, computer technicians . . . employers will hire while some employees retire.

So how do Citizens deal with Citizenship day in, day out? How do we genuinely embrace such an endowed responsibility? When and how is the responsibility activated – put into gear – actualized – authenticated . . . day in and day out?

I posit that during the majority of the 1,460 days, the majority of the 390 millions of American citizens exist semi-aware, semi-conscious, semi-caring and/or just too busy to contemplate the title of Citizen and Citizenship. We tend to pawn it – turn it over for others to babysit its  tenets. We allow others to define the title – its meaning, purpose and relevance . . . and they do! As a matter of fact, political charlatans count on citizen ignorance and lethargy.

You argue, “NOT TRUE! FAKE NEWS!” Hold on to your “I Voted” sticker! In 2016, 61.4 percent of the citizen voting-age population reported voting, a number not statistically different from the 61.8 percent that reported voting in 2012. Go ahead! Google it! Yep, for different reasons, lots of fellow Citizens decided to keep their Citizenship to themselves locally and nationally. So what are some of those reasons? Is it cynicism, skepticism, loss of credibility in the system, lack of quality candidates, loss of hope, despair, laziness? What is forgotten and overlooked is that to NOT VOTE is TO VOTE.

“Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa!” We have created a Citizenry defined by cable news, radio talk shows, internet, facebook, tweeter, instagram, blogs, websites, podcasts and oh yes, static “confirmation-information-bias” spouted by family, friends and colleagues. We have become ripe for our vote to be harvested, kidnapped and sabotaged by others.

Russia, China, North Korea and other countries have infiltrated our multi-dimensional-mind-sharing-shaping social media spaces in order to influence and affirm our inherited -isms, phobias and predispositions. All they needed was to do some simple research on our “confirmation-information biases”, ever streaming on cable and talk radio allowing the bitterness, hate, fear and mis-information to fester.

So, who is out there to protect us? Sorry to report that the answer has remained the same for the last 245 years – for this we must point to ourselves. Whether from birth or via Naturalization, Citizenship is owned by each Citizen. This means its relevance, tenets, elements, heritage, morphing, imperfections, tensions, core values and essence – as well as its power.

We own our Citizenship – its power of voice and influence – its message to the most vulnerable (the children and elderly) – its pursuit of Justice – its relationship and protection of Democracy, Constitution, Justice, Equity and Quality of Life.

Yep – it’s a very big deal and meant to be.

We enter the ballot box with our critical examination of candidates or casual ignorance guiding our choices and reasons why. We decide and rely that the choice(s) we make will be honored and respected with integrity, dignity, veracity, intellect, reason, accountability establishing credibility and trust.

Each local or national elected representative is just that – an entrusted representative of the people, by the people and for the people. Our Citizenship lives within them . . . day in . . . day out. Perhaps yet another reason to pay attention . . . day in . . . day out.

But first, how about some benchmarks that each Citizen could/should demand – require of each candidate. What would that list look like? Let’s prioritize as to whom would be deserving of Citizen support – our vote. How many would qualify?

— Let’s begin with what every family, school, business, institution depends on – a clear history of personal ETHICS. Unethical, immoral, dishonest candidates should not be taken seriously. Let’s keep in mind that candidates, once elected bring with them their personal baggage usually well defined by their personal history and legacy. What have they left behind – honor or dishonor – virtue or shame – honesty or unscrupulousness – morality or evilness – selfless service or self-serving? Lest we forget the words of Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them.”

— Candidates professing an ideology of racism, sexism, Nazism, Nativism, White Nationalism, Domestic Terrorism, xenophobia, misogyny anti-Semitism, anti-rule of law should NOT be deemed worthy of our trust, respect and their vileness is an insult to our intelligence, integrity, Citizenship and humanness.

— Intelligence and its articulation should be expected of all leaders demonstrated by historical astuteness, national and global knowledge, diversity literacy and awareness of constitutional law and processes. Intelligent leaders are articulate and don’t sound like 3rd graders using simplistic third grade language. We should demand civic literacy.

— Stellar leaders demonstrate empathy and compassion as well as strength. They inherently recognize that all Citizens are human beings with the same imperfections, needs and aspirations regarding the pursuit of a quality of life regardless of their zip codes and voting districts. Empathy means first of all awareness of the frailties of the human condition going beyond tolerance, well-intended thoughts and prayers that,“there for the grace of God go I.”

— Authentic leadership first listens – then articulates, explains and addresses serious issues with transparency and honesty. Strong leaders do not hide, shy away, deny nor deflect responsibility.

— 21st Century Leadership does not fear “otherness and difference.” It seeks and urges counterstories by those who have been marginalized and made invisible in order to learn and react with a pro-active attitude in order to make a difference in their lives.

— Authentic leadership is mature – adult like – consistently responsible – answerable – credible.

— Authentic leadership does not create contrived chaos, stress and anxiety. The messaging is not altered nor vague but centers on truth telling and clarity. Courageous leaders urge Citizens to follow the truth wherever it may lead.

— Credible leadership does not promise easy one-sided outcomes but is willing to negotiate in good faith and collaborate continuously seeking resolutions, affirmations and fruition on behalf of the greater good – the enhancement of the quality of life for all Citizens.

— Stellar leaders provide inspiration, confidence and hope. They do the heavy lifting on behalf of ALL Citizens without self-aggrandizement.

— The “base” for authentic leaders is not based on regional zip codes but the entire United States of America – ALL of America – ALL of the time – its relevance – its connections to each other – its relationships to a global community . . . and to our fragile earth.

The 21st Century is well under way. It is not looking backwards. It is not waiting, but rather moving forward and changing exponentially.

The good news is that the train of Citizenry and Citizenship stops at our door . . . day in . . . day out. Each Citizen with ticket in hand decides whether to hop on or not . . . day in . . . day out . . . we hear its call . . . “All aboard!” . . . and then moves on.

We fully own that choice . . . that decision, its responsibility, its consequences . . . day in . . . day out . . . all 1,460 days and beyond.