Like many important things in life, active citizenship doesn't just happen
Casey Hudek is a junior majoring in political science at the University of Minnesota. He is originally from Madison, Wisconsin.
Over the past semester, I served as an active member of the Warrior to Citizen Campaign working group, partnering with other University of Minnesota students – including student veterans – to organize a campus-based response to returning veterans. My work gave me a stronger sense of the strengths of one-to-one engagement in comparison with the less in depth and more numbers-based organizing work I had done in the past. While mobilizing a large base of people is important to further a cause, this strategy is limited when citizens are not activated to take concrete steps in making change. Work with the Warrior to Citizen Campaign is premised on a deeper level of engagement and is leading to meaningful power-building in the context of renewing civic life in Minnesota and re-incorporating veterans into it.
In organizing and doing work with a core team, it quickly became clear that holding other group members accountable, as well as maintaining a level of personal accountability, are prerequisites for doing successful work. Many times throughout the semester I had to delegate responsibilities to others to maintain efficiency. Being accountable to each other ensured that these tasks got done when they were supposed to and that the group was not working blindly in a disjointed way, but rather that the effort we put into our organizing was going somewhere. I knew my group members would do what they said they would and my group members knew in turn that I would accomplish the tasks delegated to me.
Through contacts I developed at the University’s Veterans Transition Center, I was fortunate to gain perspective on the issues that veterans face from servicemen and women themselves. I had my own preconceived notions about why people join the military and how these people view the world. I learned however, that citizens in the military are skilled individuals who are concerned with issues that we all face in life, and that they are driven by a strong sense of service and dedication to this country as well as the democratic values and institutions upon which it is built.
That sense of service and dedication is something I feel, too. I am highly motivated by this work, and for that reason I did not anticipate how difficult it would be to maintain a level of accountability in social change work, while simultaneously managing the pressures of college life, my classes and social life, and a campus job. Active citizenship is an easy thing to miss out on as a full-time student (or a full-time anything in today’s fast-paced society). Active citizenship is critically important however, not only in satisfying our democratic duties, but as human beings striving for personal growth and intellectual stimulation. To enrich ourselves as people and to enrich our democratic society as a whole, it is vital to have a high level of participation in and engagement with the world around us.