By Barbara A. Lewis
From What Do You Stand For?, Free Spirit Press, 1997

Activism, participation, community service, love of freedom, patriotism ...You can also look at citizenship in the broader sense. Citizenship usually refers to your membership in, responsibility toward, or contribution to your community, and your conduct within your community and nation. This means that you follow family rules and don't stay out beyond your curfew. It also means that you participate in making rules for walking down the halls at school, and you don't throw food in the lunchroom. It means that you vote when you're old enough. It means that you speak out for what you believe in at your community council meeting, and you might even campaign for someone running for office. It can also mean that you volunteer at your local hospital, carrying flowers to patients.' Or it might mean that you work with your local animal shelter to find homes for abandoned pets.

"This country has more problems than it should tolerate and more solutions than it uses."
--Ralph Nader

In a representative democracy, "citizenship" is an action word. It means that you do something to help out. United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has said that the 50 states are laboratories for citizens to develop new ideas. And there isn't one right way to practice citizenship. You might pass a petition calling for free pizza at lunch for all school kids. Or you might write a letter to Congress asking lawmakers to stop giving food stamps to low-income families. Either would be an important action, for democracy allows for a stewpot of ideas.

"One has the right to be wrong in a democracy." --Claude Pepper

In a democracy, "freedom' doesn't mean "freedom from responsibility." You can't wait for the government to clean up all the litter in the parks, fix all the potholes in the streets, tutor all the children at homeless shelters, or repair your grandmother's lawn sprinkler. An army of energetic citizens like you could accomplish that and more. If you wait for government officials to solve every problem, it will take a millennium to do and cost you too much in taxes. And you'll lose the chance to help design the solutions.

Here are four ways you can be a good citizen, starting today: 1. Be a caring, contributing, respectful person who obeys laws and rules. 2. Be an active participant in your family, school, and community. Help people. Fix things. Work to improve conditions for everyone and everything. 3. Get involved in your government. Campaign for causes and candidates. Lobby for or against ordinances or laws. Vote in all local, state, and national elections (when you're old enough). 4. Speak out against social injustice.Work for equality, fairness, safety, and opportunity for all people.

Good citizens are often patriotic. If you're an American who sometimes get a lump in your throat when you say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem, if you feel pride when you watch the U.S. athletes competing in the Olympics, if you feel a tug at your heart when you watch the Fourth of July parades or fireworks, you're patriotic. Although you might not agree with everything that happens in the United States, you love your country, defend its values, and work for improvements.

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