Active Citizenship: Keeping the Government Honest

By Sara Grimes

“Change doesn’t happen when someone from above says this is going to happen—it’s bottom up….Everything we do is about a person saying, ‘How can I move my community forward, how can I engage in positive and lasting change?’” — David Simas, Obama Foundation

Perhaps American society’s recent failure to maintain a functional government is because we have traditionally expected government to stay pure and moral on its own.  Since the time of Kant, who shaped the American founding fathers’ political philosophy, government has been seen as a parent looking out for its children.  Now we are forced urgently to call this dated perspective into question.

Government isn’t innately moral- it’s made up of imperfect human beings.  What we need is engaged citizens constantly challenging government to maintain integrity.  Up until this year, America was in a slump of apathy.  Politics was a nice conversational complaint piece, but it took Trump rising to power to drive people to new levels of activism.  

Barack Obama, whose background is in grassroots advocacy, has always championed this notion of active citizenship: citizens need to be engaged in the local community first, spreading engagement into the national level to keep their government honest.  

Yet life gets in the way.

I argue that the best form of active citizenship is a habit that we can incorporate into our daily routines. Already there are #socent organizations that are making this a reality.  We.gov makes government data available to everyday citizens.  At DiveIn, it is our mission to make participating activist events more accessible.  Whatever your approach, there are existing ways to make active citizenship an engaging part of your social, work, and home life.  After all, being a citizen is a living, breathing way of being- not a static and guaranteed identity.  How will you embody progress?

 

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Sara recently received her Master’s degree in Public Affairs at University of San Francisco.  She completed this while working full time as social media associate and program manager for  environmental education non-profits NatureBridge and Action for Nature. Sara has been a committed social justice advocate since her days writing cultural content pieces for the University of Washington’s student newspaper through her days serving in Americorps. She enjoys working in social entrepreneurship, since it allows her to invest in the cross section of innovation and active citizenship.