Civic Responsibility in America
Jennifer Self / Graduate Student, Grand Valley State University
Responsibility is defined as the "responsibility of a citizen"
(Dictionary.com). It is comprised of actions and attitudes associated
with democratic governance and social participation. Civic responsibility
can include participation in government, church, volunteers and
memberships of voluntary associations. Actions of civic responsibility
can be displayed in advocacy for various causes, such as political,
economic, civil, environmental or quality of life issues.
dates to ancient Rome whose citizens wanted to contribute to Roman
society. Civic responsibility may have started with Lucius Quinctius
Cincinnatus in 519 BC.
Responsibility has existed for centuries in society, it was officially
sanctioned as a blueprint for democracy in 1787 by the ratification
of the United States Constitution. The Constitution declared,
"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more
perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility,
provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and
secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States."
In the 18
th and 19th centuries and through the 1930s, civic responsibility
in America was tied to a commonwealth perspective. From voluntary
fire departments to the public arts to the Civilian Conservation
Corps (CCC) of the 1930s and 1940s, citizens participated in projects
that shaped communities and ultimately the nation. Due to civic
responsibility, citizenship was understood in terms of the labors
of ordinary people who created goods and undertook projects to
benefit the public, as opposed to the high-minded, virtuous and
leisure activities of gentlemen. This kind of civic identify helped
create an important balance between pursuit of individual wealth
and the creation of public things (Boyte and Kari 1999)
In the 1960s,
community responsibility and civic responsibility became more
popular. The Cold War and nuclear threats were common fears that
coalesced citizens of the United States (Swanson, 1999). Combined
with opposition to the war in Vietnam, grassroots organizations
to fight environmental pollution and college campus protest demonstrations,
citizens learned the value of expressing civic responsibility
through civil disobedience. People relied on each other in order
to correct injustice and achieve greatness in the nation.
1960s, 62.8 percent of Americans voted in presidential elections.
People were involved in political organizations and community
action groups because modern technology allowed more free time
to society (Putman 2000). Participation proved successful in the
Civil Rights Movement lead by Martin Luther King and later failed
in the 1980s with the Equal Rights Amendment initiative.
importance of civic responsibility is paramount to
the success of democracy and philanthropy."
In the 1980s
and 1990s, many organizations lost membership. For example, new
memberships for the organization of Business and Professional
Women declined 89 percent by the end of 1997. Memberships for
the Parent Teachers' Association (PTA) declined 60 percent, memberships
for the League of Women Voters declined 61 percent and memberships
for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP) saw a 46 percent decrease in membership (Swanson 1999).
In 2001, 44
percent of American adults volunteered in organizations compared
to 55 percent in 1999. Financial donations declined in 2001 with
89 percent of American households giving an average of $1,620
compared to 70 percent with an average of $1,075 in 1999 (Independent
Sector 1999, Independent Sector 2001).
of civic responsibility is paramount to the success of democracy
and philanthropy. By engaging in civic responsibility, citizens
ensure and uphold certain democratic values written in the United
States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Those values or duties
include justice, freedom, equality, diversity, authority, privacy,
due process, property, participation, truth, patriotism, human
rights, rule of law, tolerance, mutual assistance, self restraint
and self respect. Schools teach civic responsibility to students
with the goal to produce responsible citizens and active participants
in community and government.
the Philanthropic Sector
is tied to the philanthropic sector in many ways. By citizen and
corporate participation, nonprofit organizations prosper from
their giving of time and money.
directly relates to civic responsibility and ties to the philanthropic
sector by students learning through the completion of projects
within communities. Examples of organizations supporting service
learning include Youth Service America, the Points of Light Foundation
and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley
is a way in which people learn civic responsibility. Through service
learning, citizens participate in projects to help or serve the
needs of other people. By getting their hands dirty and actually
doing work, citizens experience the value and impact of giving
to people and learn to be productive members of society.
have the opportunity to participate in Alternative Spring Break
(ASB). Trips are scheduled during university spring breaks. Students
travel to various agencies throughout the country and participate
in projects such as assisting at low-income day care centers,
clearing park paths and serving food at homeless shelters. Some
schools also require students to participate in service learning
as a class or degree requirement.
is a form of civic responsibility, which involves the giving of
time or labor without the expectation of monetary compensation.
Many people volunteer through local churches, animal shelters
or food banks. Volunteering allows citizens the opportunity to
share their skills and talents as well as the to learn new skills
while helping those in need of assistance.
is a method in which to teach civic responsibility. According
to the Center of Civic Education, it is a way to promote and enlighten
responsible citizenry committed to democratic principles. Civic
education is a means to actively engage people in the practice
of democracy in the United States and other countries (Center
for Civic Education).