By the staff and partners of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship
Harry C. Boyte, Co-Director
Nan Skelton, Director, Youth Development and Training
Copyright © 2013 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
Reinventing Citizenship draws on the work of many individuals and institutions. We want to recognize in particular: Melissa Bass, Harry C. Boyte, Rebecca Breuer, Steven Clift, David Cohen, Dorothy Cotton, Walter Enloe, Sara M. Evans, James Farr, Pamela Hayle, Kathryn Stoff Hogg, Juan Jackson, Carol Johnson, John Kari, Nancy Kari, Paul Martinez, Anthony Massengale, Peg Michels, Miaisha Mitchell, Scott Peters, Tim Sheldon, Nan Skelton, Carol Shields, and Carmen Sirianni.
Our work has been enriched by sustained commentary from many colleagues, including especially: Richard Battistoni, Benjamin Barber, Mary Dietz, E. J. Dionne, Edwin Fogelman, Kate Gill Kressley, Paul Light, Gregory Markus, David Mathews, Suzanne Morse, Joe Nathan, Harold Saunders, G. Edward Schuh, Gerald Taylor and Gail Skinner-West.
|Table of Contents|
A Declining Public Life
Institutions and the Service Society
A Conceptual Approach to Civil Education
Our political and corporate leaders have at last set about to "reinvent government." But it is up to us all to reinvent citizenship. This is our public work.
Health care, crime, teen pregnancy, racial conflict, economic development, illiteracy or positively, creating appealing public spaces, educating our young, conserving our natural environment. Today the failure of institutions and groups from government to service agencies to communities to solve our common problems and to address our common tasks is a widespread theme of public debate. The resounding response has been to restructure or reinvent those institutions. But the first task is to reinvent citizenship.
We need to renew Abraham Lincoln's vision: democratic government is of the people, by the people, and for the people not simply an agency whose experts act on our behalf. Democracy relies on strong, active citizenship inside and outside of government.
In American history, the citizen has been not only a voter or a rights-bearing member of the nation or a consumer of services. The citizen has also been a producer, a public-spirited agent in problem solving and common work. But today, such citizenship is difficult to sustain. People see themselves in narrow roles, not as public actors. The service society that we live in service and information-based, hierarchically organized, fragmented along lines of specialization turns citizens into consumers, clients, advocates, or experts.
Yet addressing the tough challenges we face today will require people to reconceive of themselves as citizens. Professionals in and beyond government will need to see themselves as civil servants, part of the wider give and take process of problem solving not as experts with the answers. Clients, protestors, and volunteers will need to see themselves, in relationship with professionals, institutions, and many different associations, as serious actors with insight and capacity to bring to problem solving in public settings.
It will require widespread civic involvement that taps the common sense, energy, insight, and effort that comes from citizens with different talents and points of view working together, often across lines of sharp cultural, partisan, racial, and economic differences. Without active citizenship, we will continue to struggle with narrow, unfulfilling roles and ineffective institutions. With restored citizenship, we act as co-creators of history, reclaiming our birthright as democratic citizens to be full participants in shaping our common life.
Public work is a framework for reinventing an active practice of citizenship. Public work stresses practical public effort by ordinary people in everyday environments such as neighborhoods, schools, 4-H clubs, government agencies, nursing homes, religious congregations, community groups, service organizations, and other settings in helping to create and build to "produce" the world around us.
Pilot projects in many of these settings have tested and shaped the concepts and practice of public work. Pilot projects have been an experiment in the redefinition of public roles and public work. This work takes time and flexibility. It often involves conflict and frustration. Yet it can also lead to greater meaning and effectiveness for individuals and institutions.
Building on the work of pilot projects, the Center for Democracy and Citizenship has launched a long-term national campaign for the renewal of active citizenship of which Reinventing Citizenship is one piece. More information on this joint effort with the Walt Whitman Center at Rutgers University, the Council for the Advancement of Citizenship, the Lilly Endowment, Extension Services, David Mathews, Kettering Foundation, and others is in the appendices.
Power, dignity, moral purpose, connectedness, experimentation these characterize democratic public life. Reinventing citizenship is a pathway to the renewal of public life.
Reinventing Citizenship draws upon the experience of pilot project participants to illustrate the potential of active citizenship for reinvigorating public institutions and public problem solving. These are supplemented by books, articles, and other resources listed in the appendices. Reinventing Citizenship is built on several premises:
For citizenship to be serious, it must be tied to a politics of everyday work and problem solving. The narrow conceptions of politics and public affairs held today limit the roles we can play in public life. Politics originally meant of the citizen. It refers to the methods and practices we use to decide things. All institutions, and cultures have a politics: the way they approach work, define roles and relationships, and organize their environments.
Reinventing citizenship as the productive serious practice of public work requires recognizing that politics is the everyday activity of problem solving and building our environments not a narrowly professional or partisan activity but part of our everyday lives in our public institutions. We call our overall framework and philosophy public work. Citizen politics or civic organizing, is a method for organizing and change that puts citizens at the center. This publication further explores these concepts and practices.
Citizenship is continually developed over time. Citizenship requires practice. Our skills, concern, and understanding as citizens are constantly evolving and changing. Citizenship the ongoing contribution of citizens to solving community and public problems and creating the world around us and its skills and values are best cultivated in everyday community and institutional contexts.
Active citizenship is practiced and developed through associations and mediating institutions. Mediating institutions and associations are the spaces in which we do our public work and through which we govern our society. From schools to community groups to 4-H clubs, they connect individuals and communities to the larger public world. Yet these settings have largely lost their public missions and the active practice and development of citizenship as we have moved toward a service society.
Reinventing citizenship takes place in the context of renewing these institutions, associations, groups, and the larger relationships which tie them together. Educating individuals alone will not alter our conceptions and practice of citizenship. To reclaim public work for citizens requires changing the places in which that work is done. This publication outlines a process and some strategies based on citizen politics for using public work to restructure places where serious citizenship is learned and practiced.
William H. Hastie, the first black Federal judge, described democracy in terms that can also be applied to citizenship: "Democracy is a process, not a static condition. It is becoming, rather than being. It can be easily lost, but is never finally won." In this spirit we invite participation and feedback from our readers. Citizenship is an open, contested idea. It requires discussion, debate, and practice. And, like democracy, it must be created and sustained by us all.
|Chapter One: Reinventing Citizenship|
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