Jul 15

Engaged Citizenship

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 07/15/2019 6:00AM | Quote of the Week | Citizenship | Politics

Engaged Citizenship

Engaged Citizenship

Our Quote of the Week calls on us to examine the meaning of citizenship and engaged, productive participation in our democracy. It comes from a speech that Sargent Shriver delivered at the American Military Cemetery and Memorial in Suresnes, only weeks after being sworn in as US Ambassador to France. In this new role as the lead US diplomat in France, Sarge emphasizes the duty of good citizens to stand up together against the “social-economic rituals that bind and suffocate the spirit of man.”

In his speech, Sarge maintains that wherever we see others struggling against the hardships of poverty, disease, bigotry, or other types of inequality, we should also hear a call to action for ourselves. For Sarge, citizenship requires us to stand with and for one another. This ethos of collaborative action is reflected throughout Sarge’s career as an activist and political leader. Whether seen through the development of the Peace Corps or the creation of Community Action during the War on Poverty, Sarge’s solutions to the problems of poverty, international discord, and threats to human rights always involved the work of many people from all backgrounds coming together for a common cause. By design, these programs rely on the duty that citizens feel to contribute to the common good in order to succeed—something Sarge felt could and should be expected of all people.

Interestingly, towards the end of the speech, Sarge suggests that the duties of citizenship belong not only to individuals but also to corporations. He cites business involvement in Job Corps and the leadership of businessmen such as Henry Ford and Thomas J. Watson as examples of good corporate citizenship. This point feels particularly resonant today, as more and more corporations prioritize, whether on their own or due to outside pressure, stronger corporate governance.

Also interesting to think about given the current political climate in the US and in many parts of the world, is that citizenship according to Sarge's definition isn't about country of birth or even legal status. Being an engaged citizen means making a commitment to serving your community, your neighbors, your country, and in the context of global citizenship, even your world, so that as a collective, we may all benefit from the resources at our disposal and have our rights protected as human beings.

Our Quote of the Week gives us much to think about as we watch our leaders in action, and as the Democratic primaries ramp up toward the 2020 Presidential election. Sarge’s example of citizenship is one that is unlocked via action. It reminds us of our duty to choose our leaders wisely, and to keep all people’s well being -- particularly those struggling on the margins  -- in mind when we do. His is an example that encourages us to engage in service to each other, and that reminds us that all of our institutions, public and private, must also do as much as they can to protect our welfare. As we reflect on our duties as citizens, it’s worthwhile to remember that good citizenship can exist and be nurtured at all levels of society.

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