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Civic Commentaries

Purpose of this Section

You will find a variety of information in this section, most of it being about the practice of citizenship. We call this page “Civic Commentaries” because that term seems most suitable for its purpose: a place for essays, book reviews, summaries of research into citizenship, suggestions for citizen activists, and the like. With some exceptions, these items will be our own work, based on years of watching the grand jury and observing the occasional forays of other citizen activists into the thickets of local government.

By the way, you will sometimes see the word “corruption” on this Web site. In using this word, we do not necessarily mean corruption in the sense of criminality, such as stuffing ballot boxes, bribing public officials, or stealing money from the public treasury. Our use of the word includes these examples but also something else: What happens when a good idea is subverted?

For example, suppose you attend a city council meeting. While there, you hear the mayor of the city boast that “In my 20 years of holding office, I have never voted against the recommendation of the city manager or any other city staff member.” In the context of self-government, this is truly a corrupt statement. If you think not, add this to the equation: During his tenure as mayor, he was also employed full time as a public official in another local government in the same county.

This page will also illuminate what we mean by the phrase “active citizenship.” In our experience, Americans seem to be losing their understanding of this concept. We hope that, by illustrating examples of active citizenship, we can inspire our fellow Americans to regain their understanding of how to practice self-government.

Our first posting to this page, for example, is a review of a biography of an early California settler, a man who, in his time, single-handedly practiced a distinct form of active citizenship. In the absence of telephones, the Internet, and modern printing presses, he kept the pot of civic debate bubbling for decades. His accomplishments might seem quaint or archaic today unless we understand the essence of what he did: He saw himself, not as a compliant subject of a regime, but as an active citizen. For many years of his life, he was a living answer to the question, "What can we do about it?"

Visit this section when you can, but don’t tarry too long. Things are going on in local government that need your attention.

May 1, 2008

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