by Karen Hurt
Saturday, April 28, Spirit & Place and partners hosted the first Civic Saturday outside of its founding city, Seattle. Hosted at the Glendale Library, several community members gathered together to learn, think and listen to one another about citizenship and its meaning. For more background on the structure of Civic Saturdays and what the event is, read this post here.
Spirit & Place’s program director Erin Kelley introduced the event, with Civic Scriptures and group singing to open the afternoon.
Kelley directly addressed the fact that many civic scriptures seem that they are not written for people outside of the white men who wrote them. However, she also encouraged us to separate the words themselves from the people who wrote them. The American experiment is still ongoing, and our system was designed for us to live in and feel tension between one another and our different ideas. Looking at the exact words that were written and thinking about them in the context of today was really enlightening. I really got a lot out of reading the exact words and excerpts provided without thinking about them in an academic setting or thinking about who wrote them.
The focus of this event was citizenship. Erin invited us to think about citizenship and different definitions of the word. We hear about it in the news as paperwork that connects people to the state where they live, which is generally a Western civilization concept.
I specifically was interested in the question Kelley posted about who gets to decide to be a good citizen. Does it have to do with documentation? Or participation? And does anything even matter beyond what the people around you perceive about your citizenship? We didn’t necessarily come to any specific conclusions, but it was enlightening to grapple with all of these questions.
There were also several moments where the group was encouraged to discuss what we had heard and how we understood or felt about it. In our small group circle, it seemed that a lot of our consensus was that the thing that matters most in citizenship is showing up for our neighbors and each other. While it was still clear that voting is one of the best things we as citizens can do to participate in civic life, it’s not the only thing. Participating in things like Civic Saturday discussions, helping neighbors or getting involved in things that can make the neighborhood better are also ways to be a good citizen. Often, those things are really more important in making our neighborhoods a better place and can be where more of a good citizenship discussion can come from.
Our group also felt that respecting others and really making time for the things we say our values are is paramount in being a good citizen. For example, if I say that I value taking care of my neighbors but don’t take the time to help the neighbor who can’t shovel the snow in front of her home, I’m not truly living the values of a good citizen.
While voting or running for office is very important to a functional democracy, Civic Saturday encouraged me to think about what else I’m doing to be a good citizen to those around me and to encourage others to be better citizens in every way possible as well.
The next Civic Saturday in Indianapolis is scheduled for July 28 at Central Library. Keep an eye on this blog and the Spirit & Place website, Facebook and Twitter for information about future Civic Saturdays or other ways to engage with Spirit & Place.