A More Valuable Citizenship

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The dust has settled in post-convention-America…or, has it? The identification of candidates notwithstanding, a 58 percent unfavorable rating for Clinton and Trump should set off loud alarm bells. To boot, much of the election discourse of late devolved into a “lesser of two evils” debate. Is Trump the lesser evil? Or, is Clinton the lesser evil? For which “lesser evil” should we vote?

Last week the Democrats displayed a real struggle for unity around their candidate. This week Republicans similarly grieved their less than stellar choice. Either way one answers the mentioned question, such a dialogue presents a difficult debate, and I submit that our nation deserves more. Ultimately, our nation is worthy of a sound and healthy alternative, and we need it especially now. 

This letter is not an effort to sway or help you determine your vote (although, I believe you definitely should vote). This letter, though, is an effort to broaden the current conversation. This letter is an effort to offer an alternative to the momentum of the day; in effect, to shake us from lulling lethargy and point us to a bit more of the solution, maybe even encourage us in the pursuit of the greater good. Ultimately, this letter attempts to offer a path to a more valuable citizenship. 

These days many people are feeling overwhelmed, asking fundamental questions like “Does my vote even matter in this election?” If we’re asking that question as members of a Democracy, we’re ultimately losing sight of the fullness of the opportunity before us as citizens. 

I once heard Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer of Vanderbilt University defend the weight of a person’s vote. To paraphrase, Oppenheimer believes an individual’s vote does certainly matter in a Democracy. But, he went on to say that voting is just the beginning of citizenship. Life after the election is where citizenship can truly come to fruition, if we would only press into it. 

But, how? And, where do I even start to pursue a more valuable citizenship? Well, here are 10 concrete opportunities. These are profound in their simplicity and down-to-earth in their nature. They are wide open doors for willing citizens to step through. Instead of focusing on what is less bad, these opportunities are full of the pursuit of peace and justice, creativity and beauty, mercy and love, right here in our own Chattanooga: 

1.     Community Kitchen: Get to know and serve the homeless. 

2.     UNFoundation: Band together with others and find funds for a short-term, helpful project. 

3.     Scenic Cities Beautiful: Beautify a neighborhood. 

4.     Tennessee Promise: Mentor a first generation college student. 

5.     Read 20: Read to and with elementary school students. 

6.     Chattanooga 2.0: Engage a strategic effort to help our education community. 

7.     Causeway: Stop in and get inspired by the work of others. 

8.     Step Up: Hire and empower a local high school intern. 

9.     Chattanooga Area Food Bank: Start a company food drive for locals in need. 

10. East Lake Expression Engine: Help kids make music, find joy, and learn hope. 

The fullness of opportunity we enjoy as citizens of America invites each of us into the pursuit of the common good for our local community. Not only does our vote matter, but also what we do really matters. We each matter to our neighborhoods, schools, places of worship, parks, local governments, businesses, non-profits and the list goes on. You matter greatly. And instead of getting mired in the debate around the lesser of two evils, let us press in to a more valuable citizenship. 

Andrew V. Kean
Chattanooga


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