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Chasing Citizenship: Introduction

 

citizenship

CHASING CITIZENSHIP looks at individuals whose words and actions challenged popular opinion, conventional wisdom, and political correctness in order to make America a more excellent union. The series celebrates the work of people who sacrificed their most basic personal interests for the good of others.

The “Chase”…

What do we mean by chasing citizenship? Simply this, the pursue the most out of society for oneself and for others when the goals and the very pursuit itself tests the boundaries of societal norms. The Little Rock Nine defied south segregationist norms to chase the citizenship in the arena of public education. Chasing citizenship seeks that which is not realized by some in American society, but not all. For decades, Justin Dart chased citizenship so that the disabled community would achieve fairness employment, public accommodations, public transportation, telecommunications, and in other areas of American life. Chasing citizenship is a micro-experiment inside of a macro-American experiment. And to the extent the former manifests, the latter is necessarily closer to its ultimate destiny. 

Why This Series?

This series, as much as any other, underscores why kennethdprice.com came into existence. Our vision is individuals, households, organizations, and communities enhancing society through more informed actions. Taking a look at the citizenship enables us to put concepts such as “patriot” and “good American” into historical and cultural contexts that routinely condemned Americans we now honor.

The Problem with Citizenship

Profiles in this series present a number of problems that ordinary people could not avoid in pursuit of citizenship. Problems that renew themselves in every micro-experiment or every drama that plays out in American society when the chase is on. Of these problems are:

WilliamPenn

The Clash of American Systems. While American society is structured around key systems and principles, iconic figures in the shaping of our nation persevered through the tremendous tensions that exist between these systems. The bold exercise of democracy, for instance, is not necessarily associated with the exercise of capitalism. To the contrary, these concerns are more likely to conflict with one another. Such was the case when The Dixie Chicks released Traveling Soldier as a social critique of war. Political forces aligned against the group, sending The Dixie Chicks into a precipitous fall from the top tier of the music industry.

Whether discussing environmental issues or civil rights, the story of individuals chasing the foundations of American citizenship is the story of the high cost of citizenship. Consequently, this series reminds us that our ability to effect change is measured by our willingness to accept the sacrifices that come with it. We are likewise reminded why the iconic citizenship chasers are few in-number. The toll exacted upon them can rob these individuals of their financial resources, relationships, esteem in the community, peace of mind, and even their very lives.

While the notion of “freedom” resonates with our more romantic notions of America and what it means to be an American, the awful lesson of our history is freedom is not free at-all. It cost. And It can cost dearly. Hence, the problem of citizenship is that of deciding what cost one is willing to pay for freedom.

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Sojourner Truth’s carte de visite, The activist sold this to raise money. Circa 1864

Redefining ExpectationsAt first-glance, Merriam-Webster states a seemingly simple definition of citizenship, “The qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community.” However, inherent in this definition are two important problems; the first being that of source. Specifically, what is the source of expectations? Who or what defines one’s expected qualities as an American citizen? Who defines what it means to be “responsible” for millions of Americans that find themselves in tenuous social, economic, and political conditions in our nation? Should misguided religious leaders who twisted the Bible or the National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage [NAOWS] have defined expectations for women who sought the right to vote? Should segregationist Governor Ross Barnett have defined expectations during James Meredith’s courageous efforts to integrate Ole Miss? Should Erin Brockovich have accepted high incidents of cancer in Hinkley, Ca. in order to avoid a confrontation with Pacific Gas & Electric Company [PG&E]?

Who sets the expectations for impoverished Americans, the disabled, and the powerless in America? Ultimately, change agents in American society not only ask this question, but find an empowering answer in the ideas and ideals of America. Answers in the promises of America itself that serve the irreplaceable source of expectations. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Unalienable rights. These define the expectations, irrespective of the struggles that American change agents must endure to realize our nation’s most basic tenets.

SusanBAnthony

The Non-Citizen Dilemma. The second problem with Merriam-Webster’s definition is that which faces non-citizens; what we might refer to as the non-citizen dilemma. Namely, while we might agree conceptually on the idea of “expectations”, this leaves those in society not granted citizenship in an awful predicament. Non-citizens, no-doubt, live within the context of expectation, including those sometimes more restrictive than citizens. However, they do without reward. It is tantamount to taxation with representation. That is, bearing the burden of citizenship while being deprived of the benefits thereof. In this sense, we can view those chasing citizenship as agents who more tightly couple the investments individual make as responsible citizens with the returns from those investments.

Unusual Criminality. American citizenship is often problematic when cast against an ethos that says, “We nation of laws”. Perhaps the greatest test of citizenship comes when citizens defy the central nervous system that keeps order in the nation – its code of do’s and don’ts.

Americans consider it a key factor in what some call “exceptionalism” that our society is structured around myriad levels, forms, and dimensions of legal concepts and structures. And we cling to these notions despite innumerable contradictions, disparate applications, and loopholes. Irregularities that allow financiers to escape prosecution in the aftermath of billions of dollars of Wall Street corruption, while our jails are filled with men guilty of stealing loaves of bread or 100 dollars from the local carryout store.

Laws presume justice, but the two might be as far apart as Atlantic Ocean is from the Pacific Ocean. It was legal for this nation to put Japanese citizens in interment camps during World War II. But even the most liberal definition of justice would find it hard to see this policy as “just”. Laws have their failings, either by unintended consequences or by design. A nation of laws is not necessary the nation of justice. Surely, the enslaved African or the teenagers working in sweat factories under horrendous conditions would find a great chasm between law and justice.  

America’s legal paradox is that certain actions deemed illegal in the current societal context become the very actions that move our nation along the path of its deepest ambitions. We are, after all, a nation that grew out of protesters dumping 342 crates of tea in the Boston Harbor. We are a nation’s whose [still imperfect] freedoms have come by the hands of lawbreakers from Harriet Tubman, to Susan B. Anthony, to Rosa Parks. The candid reality of our nation’s laws, including The Constitution of the United States, is that they live on a regular diet of just opposition. Consequently, those chasing citizenship are doing so in order to bring (sometimes distance relatives of) law and justice into a closer relationship with each other.

For the Reader …

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Mexico City Olympic Games (1968). Gold Medalist Tommie Smith (center) and Bronze Medalist John Carlos (right) raise their fists, covered by black gloves of solidarity with struggles for freedom. Australian Silver Medalist Peter Norman joins Carlos and Smith. Photo: Public Domain. (Click image for licensing details).

First and foremost, the goal of CHASING CITIZENSHIP is to present compelling stories that earn your attention. From this, we hope to stimulate thoughtful conversations as each profile reveals challenging questions with which we must grapple.

Most importantly, this series seeks to encourage the reader to care more deeply about fellow citizens and our nation, at-large. To care enough to translate concerns into constructive and productive action. At the center of our nation’s most elusive realms of citizenship are people who either: 1) are not aware of a particular issue; 2) have little or no confidence that chasing citizenship will lead to desire outcome; or 3) the lack of a sufficient level compassion and passion to assume cost of chasing citizenship. In light of the information available to ordinary individuals, it is difficult to imagine the problem if awareness is most essential. As for confidence, it is our hope that CHASING CITIZENSHIP both inspires the reader to believe that his or her actions can and will matter. Likewise, we hope the profiles will challenge the reader stir-up the compassion and passion for the chase ahead.

These goals are applicable for corporate leaders and business owners, clergy, politicians, community groups, educators and students, policy analysts, persons charged to protect the country at-home and abroad, parents and neighbors, and all that make this a country of limitless potential.

Enjoy CHASING CITIZENSHIP profiles and join the conversations. Feel free to recommend profiles by clicking here. And most of all, make yourself available to chase citizenship. 

 


 

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