The rights and the responsibilities of citizenship

Keywords Forefront / Opinion

HearnThe summer months bring the holidays we celebrate related to the privilege of living in a country where our citizenship is the foundation of our society.

Citizenship can exist only in a democratic society. The uniqueness of a democratic society is that political strength is available to all who choose to participate in it. This concept of citizenship has evolved over the centuries, from ancient Greece to the newest version we practice in the United States. Citizenship as we know it is very new in the history of man. The elevation of all to the rank of citizen was born with the birth of the United States.

The July 4 holiday is the grand celebration of the words that “all men are created equal.” The evolution of this profound statement has taken generations to come to this point and remains a work in progress. The victory from British rule changed the status of people immediately, from subjects to citizens.

This year was special because, along with Memorial Day, we also observed the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Both of these occasions highlight the price of citizenship. While citizenship is a great honor and privilege, we must never forget it comes at a cost. My family, like every other, has sacrificed for the rights we hold dear. My grandfather fought in World War I and my father in World War II in the segregated armed forces, with only the dream of a better world. During the Vietnam War, our family paid the ultimate price.

The summer holiday season reminds us that our democracy stems from a philosophy of fairness. Before July 4, 1776, subjects were expected to serve the ruler with no promise of anything in return. Today in our democracy, for our sacrifices and efforts to serve the state, we are granted a priceless reward of individual liberty.

The greatest danger to this system is that either the government or we its citizens neglect our responsibility to each other. Three institutions that must remain to secure the democracy are free education for all, a free press and full participation in a free and fair election process.

As citizens, we must fully engage in the improvement of our country. We are still a work in progress. Since our creation, we have moved toward a more perfect union. We have added to the meaning of “all men” to include women, former slaves, and the first Americans—Native Americans. We have extended education to all—and are still working on the quality of that education.

The often unspoken agreement between citizens and the state remains in place. Citizens are expected to support the state by taking a knowledgeable and rigorous view of public affairs, to get out and participate in the changes needed, and to vote. Real understanding of public issues requires citizens to continually read and open themselves to various points of view. They must also hold elected leaders accountable. In a democracy, leaders are obligated to exercise the will of the people. We elect a president, not a king.

We, as Americans, must honor the sacrifices of our forefathers and the rivers of blood shed by the common man to make America great by not willingly returning to the role of subject to the government. We must claim and diligently fulfill the obligations of full citizenship so we can remain the shining example of how a free people can prosper with leadership by the people.•

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Smith is former CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana. Send comments [email protected]

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