This year, I spent the week of Thanksgiving at my dad’s parents’ house in St. Louis, Missouri. The Jolly side of the family has historically been very conservative. My great-grandfather was a Baptist pastor in a small town south of St. Louis called Farmington. My dad’s uncle was an army veteran who owned a steel manufacturing company worked by him and his sons. It’s not very hard to connect the dots the further you dig into the family tree, these people are traditional, and they aren’t extremely active in politics or citizenship. Despite this lot, my father and his parents are a bit of an anomaly. His mother is a member of the grassroots movement, “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America”, and his father, though less involved, holds very moderate political beliefs. Not to say there’s a direct correlation between partisanship and beliefs on citizenship, but I think it will be a thought-provoking aspect of comparison. Thanksgiving dinner was a little more lowkey this time around than in years past, but I was still able to engage in conversations with family members of different ages to determine what they feel to be the merits of a “good citizen”. I was not surprised by much of what I discovered, but some of my relatives proved to be a little more civically-conscious than I had previously imagined. 

Interview 1: Chad

The first person I interviewed was my father, Chad. Chad is 48 years old, slotting him in Generation X. From what I’ve known about my dad in his adult life, he is moderately knowledgeable on current political events at any given time, and is very adamant about exercising his right to vote. As I started to pry at his thoughts on what makes a good citizen, the responses seemed to be reserved in some ways. He quickly pointed out that voting is an essential component to citizenship, stating that, “more often than not, a vote is the best way to attempt to translate your political desires into reality.” The more we talked, the more I could tell that my father’s idea of proper citizenship was rooted in duty. The second aspect that he mentioned, following voting, was someone’s willingness to obey the law and adhere to established norms. He felt that any breach of the law that was not grounded in protest against an unjust law was negative and disruptive of other’s ability to function. My father, like myself, grew up with fairly privileged circumstances, and I feel as though this can sometimes lead us to take for granted what other people may feel much more strongly about. He made no mention of keeping the government accountable, but why would he ever have had to? What government actions would’ve ever had a direct effect on his suburban, white, middle-class life? Beyond formal means of citizenship, my dad felt very strongly about its social aspects. He talked on how services to others was extremely important, but I got the feeling that was more related to his idea of good humanity than it was to good citizenship. Along with this, he placed a heavy emphasis on how appreciating other’s perspectives, opinions, and backgrounds is paramount. My father demonstrated overlap between duty-based and engaged citizenship, it seemed unclear as to which side he was truly more connected with.

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