The Sentient Citizen started as an idea for a nonfiction book club.
A long reading list. I was hoping it might be a way to make a dent in my long reading list increasingly focused on finding ways to be more involved with and compassionate towards my fellow citizens. I didn’t get any takers for the book club, so on a whim I asked a small community magazine if I could write a monthly article for their publication. My proposal suggested the flavor of the articles would mix a little book review with some conversation starter questions with a little anecdotal humanizing to bring it home. I was inspired to take The Sentient Citizen to a blog format by Trent at The Simple Dollar. Ostensibly a personal finance blogger, Trent is a sentient citizen in action.
The timing couldn’t be better to inform ourselves. At the time of this writing our financial system is under extreme stress and the government is frantically scrambling to agree on a strategy to deal with the fall out of the failing system. What an important time to stop being puppets in a free market free-for-all and do everything we can to inform ourselves about what is happening and what is available to empower ourselves as citizens and communities. So the book reviews continue. See the reading list, visit your local public library, and jump into the comments to let me know what you think and what other titles should be added to the list.
What does it mean to be a Sentient Citizen? In between the book reviews, The Sentient Citizen will post about the many topics involved in being an aware citizen. I am not an expert and I have no credentials to suggest I am. I do have the ability to attempt every day to clarify what it means to me to be an aware citizen through both study and action. The catalyst for my quest is a growing sense of isolation and fear in my own life. I suspect, and hear variations on this theme from national morning shows to local community newspapers, that many of you are also experiencing more fear and isolation, rather than empowerment and community. In the face of the current financial disaster, these experiences are likely to get worse. It is an opportune time to talk honestly, openly, and respectfully about how American citizens are and can be helping each other survive messes created by greed and irresponsibility. It is time to develop and expand strong citizen networks where we value being compassionate with one another. Large corporations, in particular, have played an increasingly heavy-handed role in our lives, from lay offs to self-centered lobbying to strong-arming local governments to predatory practices. Practices like those that led to our current financial meltdown that have even the top financial guys quaking in their boots. Large corporations may have a place in our communities, but we have seen enough evidence now that they cannot be trusted to have the citizenry’s best interests at heart. (Some would say, I suppose, that isn’t the purpose of a corporation anyway. There’s certainly room for discussion about that, but we’ll leave that for another day.) The government plays a significant role in protecting the citizenry, but as we’ve seen, governments struggle to make the right moves sometimes too. So, does that mean we are relegated to being sitting ducks passively awaiting the next ding to the head? The answer is no, we do not. I think we can come together as citizens and help each other out. What does that mean? I hope The Sentient Citizen can be a forum for exploring and discussing the answers to that question.
Citizens helping citizens. To that end, here are some words and phrases that resonate for this sentient citizen. What else helps build a strong citizen-helping-citizen network?
farmer’s markets ● composting ● gardening at home ● community gardening ● creating something in your neighborhood or community ● civic engagement ● consumer empowerment ● meaningful participation ● living sustainably ● less consumerism ● less materialism ● social capital ● having roots ● local economies ● personal economies ● middle class ● green cleaning ● community supported agriculture ● local democracy ● shared governance ● republic vs direct democracy ● compassion ● choosing to avoid being mean spirited ● the power of individual citizens ● the power of communities ● self-employment ● small business ● affordable child care ● economics ● banking locally ● purpose for living ● time for family and friends ● choosing my life ● connectedness ● belonging ● knowledgeable ● present ● conscious choices ● interested ● invested ● local jobs ● home rule ● community corporations ● coming off the soapbox and getting the hands dirty (e.g. an end to self-righteous judgment and complacency) ● personal responsibility ● healthy eating choices ● genuine ● forward-thinking ● physically fit ● affordable health care ● civility
A personal experiment. The Sentient Citizen is also my personal experiment to find roots and to move out of complacency and to use my voice. My name is Angela and I thought that as an adult, I would find a place to call home and I would “get involved” in that place. Being on boards and councils wasn’t how I defined this so much as neighborhood involvement. I wanted to invite my neighbors over for brunch, help organize potluck block parties, be involved in a cooperative buying club or babysitting group, and join the neighborhood association. I wanted to have a vegetable garden, a couple chickens, and buy fresh meat from a local farmer. As a kid, I spent summers on my grandparent’s farm and watched community-in-action everyday. I witnessed the common good at work when people who didn’t like each other would still come together for purposes of the community. I also watched folks take care of one another in very practical ways, like taking dinner to the homebound or raising money for a family that couldn’t afford a child’s extracurricular activities, like high school football. I didn’t realize at the time what an increasingly uncommon experience that would become. In fact, I might’ve even thought at the time that it was hokey and small town-ish. I would give a lot to have those experiences again today. As I get closer to the middle of my life, I am surprised and saddened by how hard it can be to re-create or build anew these experiences I took for granted. My hope is that The Sentient Citizen can help me and interested others find strategies for creating the lives of community and connection that we seek in the various manifestations. Please comment much and often – your thoughtful and respectful contributions are warmly welcomed and generously encouraged!
An Old Irish Blessing for you, my friends, from me by way of my jolly Irish grandma:
May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life’s passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!