What does it mean to be a good citizen, and why should you strive to be one? Many of us are brought up to believe that you must be a good citizen for a democracy to “work”. Being a good citizen usually includes, but not limited to: voting, paying your taxes, flying the flag. Generally speaking, not being engaged in any type of counter-culture or rabble rousing. This type of education of being a good citizen usually begins in the home, ideals passing on from the father and mother to the children. Along this vein, in school, videos like School House Rock are often shown. This education persists with programs for young adults like Rock the Vote, whose slogan is “Rock the Vote don’t block the vote. Some politicians don’t want you to vote, but we’re fighting back”. Yet another program geared toward 18+ individuals, is the Declare Yourself Campaign. A “national nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign to empower and encourage every eligible 18-29 year-old in America to register and vote in local and national elections.” Using promo videos from celebrities and artists like, T.I. and Seth Green. The videos encourage college age students to vote, and to vote early because as T.I. puts it, “Don’t let the man tell you when to vote. Do your thang, when you get ready. Aiight?”
If one does not vote, young or old, the blame is laid solidly at that persons feet. Individuals are often shamed into voting, they are told to be a good tax paying citizen and to fulfill their obligation to their country. But maybe it’s not the voters fault, maybe it’s the systems fault. Maybe the system in which we conduct politics is broken and needs to be changed. That problem cannot be fixed by voting. Voting removes one individual and puts another in the same broken office. This puts a different individual into the same system, of course it doesn’t work.
By not participating in an organization you are illustrating and acting out on your values. You do not agree with the organization. Wether it’s their mission statement, means to an end, or the end itself. Your separation is observing your values and illustrating your morals. You do not agree with system, therefore you do not act in it or take part in it. Instead you create a counter organization or merely act for yourself based on your own values.
Almost every major social movement: non importation boycotts done by the colonists first in the 1760s and 1770s, civil rights, abolitionist movement, women’s liberation, black power movement, anti-war movement, non-violence protests, American Indian movement, animal rights, LGBT social movements, etc. was largely started, pushed forward and facilitated, not by voting or by political means; but by voluntary cooperation with other individuals. This cooperation was formed and moved together to change peoples minds. To change views about indians, about women, about slaves and about war. To create lasting societal and community change you must first work to change the ideals and forces in individuals, which will in turn change the community. You cannot create a lasting movement or change through the barrel of a gun, forcing everyone to your view, your morals and your ideals. If you want to create lasting change in your community, then move to change peoples minds. Move to change their heart and their logic.
Ultimately, being a “good citizen” is merely being a responsible individual. Living your life the way you see fit and not violating another individuals. Being told to be a good citizen, which includes: falling in line and shutting up. Is quite ironic when this republic was born in protest and rebellion. That anyone could try and discredit protesting or civil disobedience as a legitimate and effective means for change, is ahistorical.
Many of these movements conducted their plans for change through civil disobedience. This sometimes made it more difficult to persuade people to their way of thinking. Outsiders would merely dismiss them as troublemakers, instead of really taking the groups questions to heart. The question of wether to commit civil disobedience can be a hard one, that method can possibly dissuade people from joining your movement. It may also encourage those who just want to cause trouble. This question however can only be answered by the individual. You alone are responsible for your actions, behaviors and responses, no one else. If you cannot sit in silence any longer, by all means, disobey.
“You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.”
“We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
– Malcolm X