My political activity has, once again, caused me to return to the basics. In my lifetime, I have never known anything more basic than this one truth: "I am citizen".
I am perfectly willing to find it reasonable to believe that these words, like a Beethoven symphonic masterpiece, are heard, felt, understood, and even spoken differently by everyone who encounters them. Some folks intersect these words favorably, because these words are true for them. These words evoke the strongest possible emotion for them, most (but not necessarily all) positive, good, and warm.
Others come to the intersection of these words less than favorably--but not necessarily negatively. Non-citizens understand, or at least come to understand that these words are exclusionary for them. They are not citizen, and may never be citizen in the United States of America. Sadly, with a sense of hopeless resignation, there are those who do not believe these words will ever be true for them--for whatever reason. These folks look longingly at these words with the willingness to abandon all they have, and all they have ever known, wishing for nothing more than the right to claim these words as their own for themselves, or for their family.
This writing has to deal with my personal relationship with these words. I am involved with some things that have required me to visit them from a pedagogical basis, which always requires a personal attack inside myself. As an educator, I am a "Why?" guy. I do truly work my hardest to look at such things--as I might teach to another--from 360 degrees.
If, as it is true for so much of my writing, no other person should ever read, or interact with my words here, it will not matter to me. While I would love to engage in discussion about these words with literally anyone, first I must come to understand them as they apply to me. That is the purpose of this writing: a conversation (perhaps) with myself.
That conversation begins (but may not conclude) just below the
squiggledoodlethingey fold. I hope you will join me.
I believe there is an unassailable relationship between I, citizen, and this document. It's a little confusing, yet it is this very relationship which has caused me to have this conversation. For me, unless you understand the first three words of the document, you cannot hope to understand the three words of the title at the top of the page.
It is not enough to presume either, or both sets of words.
Technically, I am a citizen of the United States of America because I was born in the beloved hills of Southeastern Kentucky, a State OF The United States of America. Upon my birth, as a direct result of this fact, I was "endowed" with the rank of citizen. I did absolutely nothing to "earn" this rank, other than arrive.
I did not choose this, someone else did. Yet, because of that choice, I was granted this rank. Had I been born anywhere outside the borders or possessions of The United States of America, the rank of citizen may well not have applied to my person. That is, however, an unnecessary mental exercise, at first glance. Perhaps I will visit that later.
Citizenship in the United States of America is conferred upon most (but not all) persons born upon her shores. This rank is unassailable, but only at the moment of my birth. Yes, it is very much possible to pierce the relationship I share with my rank, and lose that rank. Should I defame the rank, I could well lose it. Should I somehow become "undesirable" according to the dictates of my government, and within the constraints provided for in that document up there, I could lose my rank as citizen.
Should I somehow lose that rank, it is much more than statistically probable that I would never have the ability to claim it--ever again. Just the idea of such a reality causes me to feel a deeply ingrained sadness, just at the thought. I was not born with the understanding I have today about my rank. I have learned it. I have been raised, and lived my life within it. Some would even go so far as to say I have earned it.
The question which caused all this came in a conversation I had recently. "Have I kept earning it?" Does the rank of citizen require upkeep, maintenance? Can you just skate through your life as citizen, not care for the rank, and remain qualified to hold the rank? I was taught, and have tried to live my life with the understanding that, even if it were possible to exist a lifetime without attention to the rank, you could still have it, no citizen would tarnish such a treasure in such a selfish manner.
That is to say that my rank does, in fact, require my attention: every day. I'm not talking about traffic tickets, or criminal behavior. I'm talking about the interaction with my rank. That can be a difficult for some folks who share that rank with me to grasp. Ours is a universally equal rank. There is no "greater" rank of citizen, or "lesser" rank of citizen. If you qualify, the rank is equal. I know, and completely understand that there are many who would disagree with me on this. That is not the discussion I am having. Please reserve that conversation for future installments. Right now let's simply agree that, if you have it, you have all that derives from it.
How does one maintain their rank? Does the rank come with not only privilege but obligation? That gets a bit more into the weeds. Let's go there. The answer is a resounding "Yes!" Why? What does that get me? What does that cost me?
My care and maintenance of my rank as citizen gets me the first three words of the document up there. "We, the people..." is a universe away from "I, the person...". Every citizen has a slice of something very special, indeed which separates them from most of the planet's inhabitants. The size of the slice may be (and most certainly, sad to say, is) larger or smaller, depending on the "I" that I or you may be. Yet, for each person who holds the rank, that slice is there. Mine is not more worthy than yours.
The rank of citizen, as I see it, is an amazing equalizer for a people. It is also the lowest common denominator among all people who call America the place of their birth. There is a simple bifurcation of reality so far as the rank is concerned: you either have it, or you don't. Everyone on this planet is a citizen of some place, some nation. I am citizen, an integral part of what it is to be The United States of America. I do not intend to place my rank here above (or below) yours, regardless of the nation of your birth.
What you do with that rank, however, can not only define you, or where you exercise that rank. What you do with that rank can define a nation. What that nation does for, or to all those holding this rank can go a really long way toward defining the entire world.
That's why it matters so much. That's why it matters so much to me. It should matter that much, in my opinion, to all who hold that rank. I've come to understand that holding the rank doesn't matter to some, and it means more to others. I wish it meant more to most folks, I really do. I love my rank. Why does it seem that, in these difficult days of our national life, that there are so many so readily willing to lay aside their rank, to cast it aside as if it were nothing more than a cheap, worthless, embarrassing, tarnished bauble?
Before, however, I dare presume for anyone else, it is my perceived obligation to re-visit my rank, to do an honest, deep and relentless evaluation of my rank, and my personal relationship to, and maintenance of it.
It is uniquely important that I do that right now, and for the days to come, for I may be called upon to exercise that rank in ways that I thought were completed some time ago. Greater still, I may be called upon to teach the basics, and even some advanced truths of that rank to others.
Is it worth it? Don't I have something else (anything else) to do with these days of retirement and disability? Is it true that it must matter to me, or I cannot hope to have it matter to another citizen?
I don't know. That's why I'm having this conversation. But, this conversation has gone long enough...for now. Sometimes, determining the best questions is the best possible foundation for a good conversation. That's where the very best answers come from, after all, no matter how difficult they may be to accept. Truth is the ensign of the true Progressive. I seek truth. I am citizen. That's what citizen does.