CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: FOUNDATION OF DEMOCRACY
Empowering Individuals and Communities Through Civic Engagement
What is civic engagement and citizenship and why is it important for AmeriCorps members to increase civic engagement competencies? Aren't members civically engaged by virtue of their commitment to service?
Defining Active Citizenship To begin, there are many ideas and definitions of civic engagement. Most definitions include, in some form, at least three key components. Consider this definition from The State of Service-Related Research. The Grantmaker Forum on Community and National Service
Citizenship or civic participation consists of behaviors, attitudes, and actions that reflect concerned and active membership in a community. This includes the more traditional electoral citizenship activities, such as voting, serving on nonprofit boards or school boards, as well as less traditional forms of political participation, such as community organizing and social activism. It includes participation in small neighborhood-based efforts and the larger national and international movements.
Behaviors, attitudes and actions. These are the common principles of citizenship and civic engagement. Voting, serving, organizing and social activism are all expressions of active citizenship. And, while many individuals associate citizenship primarily, or solely, with voting, active citizenship clearly encompasses a broader range of involvement.
Active citizenship is about personal and community empowerment. Voting is a part of that package of empowerment, but only one part. Service is a part as well, but only a part. For individuals and communities to access legitimate power to promote and protect their interests and rights, they must also be able to serve, organize and to take action. By accessing as many sources of civic empowerment available, individuals and communities can impact their own lives, and the lives of others, in a significant way.
Voting alone is usually not sufficient. Service, by itself, is also often inadequate. Or organizing. Or even social action. But together they components of civic engagement can be very effective in not only addressing needs but also affecting change.
Well-trained AmeriCorps members can be significant influences and resources in helping facilitate an expanded awareness of active citizenship and civic engagement.
Roots of Active Citizenship Active citizenship has a strong tradition in this country dating back to its earliest days. In fact, the principles of active citizenship are embedded in this country’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence. This document outlines the fundamental rights extended to all individuals. The presence or absence of these rights is often referred to as social justice. To better understand the concept of active citizenship as expressed through civic engagement, one simply needs to reference the founding document that holds both a promise and a mandate.
Source: Corporation for National Service
Foundation and philanthropic support for voting in support of civic engagement from around the Web.
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Bina Sitaram, a 40-year old former senior garment technician in the fashion industry, has created a social enterprise that affords young students lessons in healthy living by holding gardening, cooking and arts and crafts sessions.