Citizen Engagement as a Force for Social Transformation


What does it mean to be an engaged citizen?  Paolo Friere, the great Brazilian educator, said that we have a vocation, a calling, to be fully human.  This is a good summary of engagement – I am citizen of the world – I have rights and responsibilities to myself and others.  As we see all around us, though, society is transforming constantly and mostly without involvement of citizens.  In fact a good deal is done to dis-involve people. Social transformation is not automatically positive or progressive.

Friere puts in front of us a very important question.  He says, “What if we discover that our present way of life is irreconcilable with our vocation to be fully human?”  Can we live easily, for example, knowing that 3 billion people in the world live on less than $2 per day?  Or that if we don’t act dramatically and immediately, by 2011 it may well be too late to save our planet from the ravages of human created climate change?  For those of us who are American, how many minutes of the day can we ignore the fact that 40 cents out of every tax dollar supports our military and that we are the most militarized nation in the world, with a military capacity that exceeds the next nine most militarized nations put together?  Can you who are Canadians live easily with the increasing numbers of statistics coming out of every province showing that poverty is not only increasing quite dramatically, but that is also increasingly racialized?  That a United Way study showed that poverty in communities of color across Canada increased by 360% from 1981 to 2000, while among the general population poverty decreased by 28% in the same time period?  Our two countries are transforming into places that are irreconcilable with the values that truly engaged citizens would espouse.

And what is most puzzling is the role of nonprofits in any of this…

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