The immigration debate has watered down the public’s perception of what it means to be a citizen by framing it as a state brought on by birth or certification by the government. The gravity of the term is lost amongst the endless rhetoric. To put it simply, a citizen is a member of a nation that shares in certain rights, privileges and duties. ‘Duties’ seems to be the word lost on modern citizens.
Civic duties are necessary to the health of the nation. Every American male at the age of 18 is required to register for the draft. If the United States were to find itself in a circumstance where the common welfare requires the mobilization of our entire military might, then it is the duty of everyone registered to serve. I can’t say that the prospect of killing or being killed is particularly thrilling, but it is my duty to do so if necessary.
Another form of duty and one we are oftentimes told to hate by neoliberals is taxation. Taxes provide the lifeblood of the state and are used to support services like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, infrastructure, public education, libraries, post offices etc. Every material benefit we enjoy as Americans is paid for by tax dollars. This is why I’ve always thought it was strange that my peers treat tax day as a day of mourning. Why wouldn’t someone want to help the poorest and neediest of their nation?
A final civic duty to consider is the one most often forgotten about largely because it requires the individual to become active and that is voting. Political participation is vital to a properly functioning democracy. That feeling that the government is some kind of foreign entity is the result of decades of political apathy. The government in liberal democracies is a reflection of the most politically active interests in a nation.
Our feeling that the government is disinterested and doesn’t listen to the people should not result in more apathy. Withholding your vote is voting for more of the same.