Ballad of the Serious CitizenPosted: December 16, 2011
By Jeffrey Abelson, Founder of Song Of A Citizen
Ask any expert what civic engagement means, and you’ll hear mostly about voting and volunteering. Both big V’s are obviously vital to a healthy democracy and good society. But by themselves they’re insufficient to solve the growing list of crises and challenges our
country and communities face. There’s a missing third leg of civic engagement that we need much more focus on.
What is that third leg? It starts with acknowledging that we each have a serious job to do as citizens that goes beyond what we’ve been led to believe. That job entails not only staying well informed on the issues of the day, but being actively engaged in hands-on political decisionmaking and problem-solving.
But most Americans feel there’s no way to make their voices heard in an effective manner. The good news is that there is. There are proven methods and processes that empower ordinary people not just to be heard, but to have a direct impact on public policy. And do it in a way that neutralizes polarization. Study up on deliberative democracy to learn how it works.
And then give it a try. Join or stage a deliberative forum on your campus, or in your community. Experience first hand what it’s like to be in a facilitated dialogue with other students, and/or faculty, or fellow citizens — where you learn about an issue together, and sort through the tough trade-offs involved in addressing it. And do it in a way that results in 70 to 80 percent agreement.
Imagine that. Not 51% Not 60%. But 80% agreement! Sounds nuts, but it actually happens time and again in these serious citizen forums.Okay, now imagine them happening everywhere, all the time. Imagine a country, and a Congress, that can agree on transformational cross-partisan fixes that 80% of us can understand and support. On
issue after issue.
Like the sound of that? You can make it happen. In fact, you’re probably the only ones who can. As college students, you have the opportunity to learn about and get inspired by the deliberative process. You can then lobby your schools to stage such forums on
campus — by and between students, and faculty, and community members.
And then you’ll be ready to take the critical next step. To lobby your parents and grandparents to get in the game as well. Because as much as we need today’s college students to immerse themselves in the never-ending work of the serious citizen — to prepare to run the country down the line — we can’t afford to wait another 10 or 20
years until you take the wheel. We need today’s grownups participating as well. Right now.
And nobody’s in a better position to inspire inter-generational partnerships than you are.
So the cliché is true. The future is literally in your hands. And in the sounds of your voices.
“The American idea is a beautiful idea.
It needs to be preserved, served, protected — and sung out.”
Happy Holidays from Song Of A Citizen.
Jeffrey Abelson is a writer, filmmaker, and founder of Song of a Citizen. His most recent PBS film was Drawing Fire, about Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Paul Conrad (narrated by Tom Brokaw).
Song of a Citizen is a non-profit, non-partisan collaboration of prominent thinkers and artists producing innovative films and web videos designed to spark a much-needed upgrade in how we-the-people view our role as citizens — and to demonstrate proven methods for transforming ourselves from passive civic spectators into hands-on political problem-solvers.
Jeffrey is also a contributing blogger to The Huffington Post.