How can we be good citizens?
For the past couple years, I have facilitated a senior seminar at a local university. The seminar focuses on “Citizenship”, and encourages students to be involved in community service learning, to gain understanding of local politics through attendance at a city or town government meeting, and to practice civil discourse with classmates around social issues and current events. In this course, students primarily learn from each other as they discuss salient topics such as climate change, social determinants of health, and the impacts of capitalism, social justice, and policy on local, state, and national levels.
As the class progresses, students gain a sense of safety and comfort in speaking their minds with their fellow students, and have a regular chance to listen as well as be heard. Over the semesters of being involved with this class, we have talked through subjects including police brutality, health inequity, workers’ rights, environmental racism, student loan forgiveness, and more. I have relished this opportunity to learn from the students, see them become passionate about social issues, be open to hearing differing opinions, and gain an understanding of the various ways that they can practice being a “good citizen”.
I have felt strongly that this opportunity for students to practice discourse is so valuable, particularly in our current climate of heightened division, and hope that they leave the course feeling more confident to talk to their networks and neighbors about the issues that matter to them. There is such value in gaining comfort discussing complex issues face-to-face—how often are we empowered to do this, rather than have these debates and conversations behind a screen? I hope that this seminar may compel some to speak up for causes they are passionate about, even if this feels risky, because much of the social change in our history has started with speaking truth to power. Speaking up and speaking out feels especially critical right now, as voices of truth are being silenced.
A few months ago, I was glued to the screen as the Tennessee Three spoke their truths and elevated the voices of their constituents seeking gun safety policy, as their government peers tried to silence them. Recently, Montana Representative Zooey Zephyr was censured after advocating for medical care for transgender minors in the state. And Florida’s government is aiming to control the narrative of US history, forbidding the inconvenient truths about America from being taught to students in the state. The voices of power are working relentlessly to be the only ones heard, and we must take inspiration from those like Justin Pearson, Justin Jones, and Zooey Zephyr, and not let this happen. I think sometimes we all could use a reminder of the myriad of ways to be “good citizens”, and exercising our voice against efforts of oppression is a great way to start.
Director of MaineShare