We the Citizens
by Andy Joppa
In May of 1954, the following article appeared in The Herald Statesman, the Yonkers, NY, hometown newspaper:
“Is Citizenship Important? was discussed by a group of pupils at today’s Class Day exercises of School Thirteen on McLean Avenue where 104 sixth graders were ‘graduated.’ Miss Mamie V. Herald, principal, welcomed the guests and Mrs. Elfrida S. Reid. Supervisor of instruction in the elementary grades, distributed sixth grade certificates.
The “graduates” are, …Andrew Joppa
Yes…in 1954 I was one of the half/dozen students who participated in a discussion of citizenship. This was seen as important enough to make it part of a grade school graduation program…and we were only 12. Did that matter to me? All I know is that for my entire adult life the importance of citizenship has been front and center in my mind. Today, other than being a named status of a given person, discussions pertaining to the qualitative components of that status are seldom considered. The following will hopefully lead us back to understanding exactly what it means to be a citizen of The United States of America.
The concept of WE THE PEOPLE has always seemed to lack any qualitative component. I have thought that the intent of unity was better expressed as WE THE CITIZENS…the word “citizens” suggesting a group of people with common rights and, as importantly, common responsibilities. Debatably, a randomly chosen group of Americans would not be comprised in the majority by those who accept or even understand their common responsibilities.
During the height of The Roman Empire there was nothing more glorious than saying, “I am a Roman citizen.” Today…there is no nation in the world that generates the same level of citizenship enthusiasm as those that say proudly, “I am an American citizen.” I don’t suggest that all who are “citizens” feel that same sense of gratitude at being an equal member and contributor to the greatest nation the world has ever known. So, I will discuss citizenship as it should be…as it once was… and as it must be in the future if this nation is to survive and prosper. I will briefly discuss the rights of citizenship …briefly…not because those rights are unimportant but more so because they are so widely known and discussed. I will invest most of my effort in discussing the responsibilities of citizenship… responsibility in general… and through specific actions.
First, what is a right? This needs substantial clarification. Let us not confuse the word “right’ with the word “important”…eating is important but it is not a “right.” If anyone has to give you something it is not a right. Food as a right, for example, begs the question of someone having to grow it and distribute it and sell it. If no one wants to perform these actions, how is that right to be fulfilled? Rights can only be taken away…they can never be given. No one gives us Freedom of Speech…no one gives us Freedom of Religion…no one gives us the right to bear arms…these rights can only be taken away. Our Constitution was created to ensure that the national government could operate only within a specific set of parameters and could not take away our rights; rights that preceded the government’s existence. The Bill of Rights did not bestow the enumerated rights it describes…it reinforced that the government did not have the prerogative to act in those areas.
So…your government does not give you your rights. In fact, your Constitution doesn’t give you your rights…BUT…your Constitution is critical as it protects what was always yours and could not be interfered with by the inappropriate intrusion of government. Without the Constitution our government would constantly attempt to “eat its own.” These few words by the Framers on aging parchment are all that stand between us and tyrannical anarchy. At this point the walls of that constitutional rampart are beginning to crumble under the constant assaults from the political Left. As a result, Americans in2021 are in greater threat of losing their “rights” than ever before in our history.
Of course, you hear a lot about additional “rights” in America. You have a right to an attorney. You have a right to remain silent. You have a right to “due process,” and a right to have “equal protection under the law.” On top of those we hear about individual rights, civil rights, human rights, and constitutional rights. Stop somebody from doing something he wants to do and as likely as not, he’ll tell you, “I have a right to do that and you have no right to stop me. After all, it’s a free country and I have my rights!”
All that’s well and good, but you know what you don’t hear a lot about anymore?… Responsibilities!
Responsibilities are the critical flip side of rights. In fact, the only reason we have rights at all is because there are people who fulfill their responsibilities. Yet, if you ask people what their responsibilities are as Americans, you’ll usually get vacant expressions and maybe a mumbled statement about jury duty or paying taxes.
While rights do not, in themselves, preserve freedom, fulfillment of our responsibilities will do just that. There are many actions that are considered to be part of a citizen’s responsibilities. Some of these are the result of legality, others are a result of a committed citizen accepting their ethical responsibilities as the method of securing their own rights:
· Stay informed of the issues affecting your community.
· Participate in the democratic process. Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws.
· Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
· Participate in your local community.
· It’s our responsibility to pay our own way.
· It’s our responsibility to take care of our children.
· It’s our responsibility to look out for future generations of Americans.
· We have a responsibility to put America first.
· We have a responsibility to be a good person. This may sound a bit strange but, as Samuel Adams noted back in 1779:
“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous, they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.”
By far, however, the most important responsibility of a citizen is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Yet, the Constitution is under daily attack in this country by activists and politicians who feel the ends justify the means, along with judges who claim to believe in a “living Constitution,” which is functionally no different than not having a Constitution at all. You may not win every fight to adhere to the Constitution, but it’s a battle worth fighting because nothing does more to safeguard the rights of all Americans.
If I meet someone who defends the Constitution and actively seeks to protect it, I know they are part of the group that I would define as We the Citizens. This is why most of my personal choices deal with reinforcing The Constitution. There is no more meaningful way for me to fulfill my responsibility as a citizen of the United States of America.
If a person doesn’t support The Constitution, they can scarcely be called a citizen at all.
“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”
― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman