The Spirit of eCitizenship
By Mary Sorenson, Graduate Instructor, Department of Communication, University of Missouri (and former ADP student from Illinois State University)
During Tuesday evening’s State of the Union Address by President Obama, a multitude of topics were covered and a political agenda was set. Among the discussions of minimum wage, education, healthcare, gun control, and foreign policy, Obama emphasized the “spirit of citizenship,” and further defined what it means to be an American citizen by stating:
- “Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote.”
- “Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day.”
- “Citizenship demands a sense of common cause; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve our communities.”
While this annual speech addresses major political issues and sets the stage for the future of our country, Obama’s unique conception of the spirit of citizenship opens up a door for many; a door that allows for political participation and civic engagement to take on many forms, including that of online involvement.
You see, President Obama did not define the spirit of citizenship as strictly casting a vote, but as the defense of our right to vote. He did not advocate for all citizens to march into the office of an elected official and demand certain gun laws, but to support those who have been impacted by gun violence. In order to achieve commonality, participate, and serve, the President did not instruct specific action, but encouraged all citizens to engage with one another. Through these definitions of citizenship, President Obama presented ideas and actions to uphold without indicating that there may be a right or wrong way to engage with one another.
It is important to recognize that the spirit of citizenship can exist on the Internet, where millions of users impact the lives of one another each day. The question must then be asked, what is the spirit of eCitizenship? Is this type of citizenship different from others? According to the way our President defined it, there is room in politics for citizens to engage and participate in unique ways.
During the #ADPTDCsotu tweet-up, faculty members and students representing multiple institutions around the country shared their political voice with one another. While discussing issues of education, gun control, minimum wage and more, eCitizenship was thriving throughout the President’s address. Citizens who may have otherwise not participated in this event were given a platform to practice the spirit of citizenship and the opportunity to engage with and support one another. The tweets in this conversation illustrate a desire to find a common cause as citizens who are strangers beyond the Internet were able to interact with one another and develop a community. Replies, retweets, and favorites may appear to be minimal acts but in the social media world, these acts are signs of connection and support. As the President stated, our job as citizens is to stand up for and support one another. Just as much as we can engage in these acts face-to-face, we can engage from behind a screen.
As educators and students it may be difficult to conceptualize and discuss what it means to enact the spirit of citizenship. I challenge each of you to define what citizenship means to you; to get at the core of what it means to be a citizen, even if you lack confidence in your political knowledge. I challenge you to engage in conversation with others about how you participate in the political process and how you might discover your own political voice. The spirit of eCitizenship is growing each day and needs each of us to fuel its fire.