“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

– President Kennedy

Top 10 Citizen Actions

Attend a School Board Meeting.

The success of a democracy is predicated on educated citizens. A district’s school board is instrumental in determining the quality of its schools. While school boards differ from state to state, they typically are responsible for things like:

  • hiring principals, determining the curricula and books to be used, and
  • setting school policy for such things as dress code, school hours, and disciplinary matters.

Most school boards are elected. Attending the school board meeting in one’s school district is a great way to assess the quality of its elected members, to understand the types of issues being considered, and to provide in-person input or feedback on local school issues. .

Discuss the Responsibilities of Citizenship with Your Children.

The Constitution and other founding documents talk mostly about our “inalienable rights”. These rights are freedoms that every individual in this country is able to enjoy. Also, we live in an era where the focus on our “rights” is strong – and perhaps a bit out of kilter with what was intended. It seems that special interest groups, as well as individual citizens, often use the phrase “have the right to” in ways intended to serve their best interest and not the country’s best interest, as intended by the founding fathers.

In order to sustain a society where its citizens are free, individuals must also have some obligations or responsibilities to that society. GOOD CITIZEN’s mission is about the responsibility part of freedom. Without citizen involvement, freedom is not sustainable; and without freedom, there are no “inalienable rights”. And while there is not any “correct” way to be responsible, each of us is responsible for doing and acting in a way that keeps the country strong and thus free.

The best time to learn this message is when one is young. Discuss citizenship, and the rights and responsibilities that come with it, with your children. Choose a few of the citizen actions on this site that your children can accomplish and some that you can do together. You will not only teach them good citizenship skills, but you will let them know how important citizenship is to you.

Express Your Opinion to Public Officials, the Media, and Organizations.

The Constitution and other founding documents talk mostly about our “inalienable rights”. These rights are freedoms that every individual in this country is able to enjoy. Also, we live in an era where the focus on our “rights” is strong – and perhaps a bit out of kilter with what was intended. It seems that special interest groups, as well as individual citizens, often use the phrase “have the right to” in ways intended to serve their best interest and not the country’s best interest, as intended by the founding fathers.

There are many things we take for granted. The ability to freely say what we believe is one of them. Amazingly, in many countries, when one speaks out against the government, there is the prospect of recrimination, jail, or even bodily harm.

When you hear or read something that has national implications and with which you agree or disagree, expressing your feedback to the appropriate organization or person does a couple of things:

  1. It lets the organization know that people are hearing their message and how they’re reacting to it and
  2. It allows Americans to express their viewpoints in ways other than voting.

Expressing our opinions is the only way others know what we think. It helps us formulate our own beliefs, and encourages others to form and express theirs also.

Elected Officials

You’d be surprised and pleased at the impact feedback to a public official can have. Most public officials have websites with contact information. Here are some links for sending your senator, house representative or the President a note.

  • The official White House web site. The official U.S. House of Representatives web site. The official U.S. Senate web site www.congress.org allows you to find and communicate with members of congress; the president and vice-president and white house staff; the Supreme Court and state governors; and to track legislation.
  • www.e-thepeople.com is a creative, interesting and useful site. Allows on-line letters to be sent to over 170,000 government officials in over 9,800 towns. It also allows one to start a petition or to sign one already established and/or join in discussion groups about major topics being discussed nationally.

Radio Talk Shows

Another great venue for expressing your opinion and being heard by a lot of people is on a radio talk show. It’s not as hard as it might seem to get through. Keying-in a radio station’s call letters (e.g. KABC) into a Google-type search engine will usually yield a website with contact information. Some popular talk shows are rebroadcast in certain time zones so check

Extend Small Courtesies to 'Individuals of Difference'.

We live in a country with more diversity of every kind than any other nation on earth. It’s one of our greatest strengths. It’s also one of our greatest challenges.

Diversity implies differences and differences often create uncertainty. Additionally, many culturally diverse groups have a history of conflict with one another – a history of fact, a history of perception, and a history of innuendo.

So it is particularly important that when each of us encounters someone different from ourselves (i.e. an “individual of difference”), that we go out of our way to show that individual that they are on equal footing with us, that we respect them, etc.

Yes, we should do this to everyone, but when two “individuals of similarity” interact, there usually isn’t that potential tension of difference. However, when we encounter someone of difference on a day-to-day basis, we go out of our way to:

  • hold the door for them,
  • look at them and say hi,
  • give them the right of way in traffic

Pick Up a Piece of Trash Each Day.

I can not prove it, but would “bet the house” that individuals function better and treat others better in a clean environment. A clean environment sets expectations of higher behavior. A clean environment not only enhances our quality of life and the natural beauty of this country but the value of property.

Listen to what the Mayor of Newark, New Jersery, Cory Booker, said about the impact of keeping a city clean on Conan O’Brien show.

Picking up a piece of someone else’s trash isn’t easy. But doing so is an act of leadership and gives others incentive and permission to do the same. It shows others that you are willing to help keep their world/environment clean. Like many citizen actions, this one is a small but important sacrifice and gift to others.

Picking up a piece of trash each day is satisfying and gives one a feeling of doing something beyond themselves. It’s also a daily reminder of the need for each of us to do things to keep the country strong.

If you go for a walk or take a picnic, bring a plastic shopping bag. You can actually use the plastic bag to pick up the trash if you don’t want to touch it. Keeping some plastic bags in the glove compartment of our vehicle(s) also helps ensure that we dispose of our trash properly.

In some states, the “Highway Department” allows organizations to be responsible for keeping portions of a highway clean and in return, the organization’s name gets posted on a sign on the highway. In California, this is called the Adopt-A-Highway Liter Control program.

Protest Over Something You Feel Strongly About.

To protest is to express objection to or support of an idea, a cause, a position, or an action. The ability to express one’s opinion freely and peacefully is one of this country’s great strengths. It allows all points of view to be heard and thus considered. I have always thought that holding up a sign in public in protest over something you feel strongly about takes a lot of courage and commitment.

There are many ways to protest, some more visible than others – from privately boycotting a company’s or nation’s products or services; to sending a letter of protest to an organization; to publicly protesting; and to circulating or signing a petition of change.

Resist Intimidation and Bullying.

What does resisting intimidation have to do with being a citizen, much less a good one? A lot and here’s why!
Intimidation is when someone wants you to do something that you don’t believe is appropriate and suggests that if you don’t comply, you will suffer an uncomfortable consequence. Sometimes the negative consequence is implied and not mentioned.
Intimidation is also when someone wants you NOT to do something you believe should be done and threatens an uncomfortable consequence if you don’t comply with their wishes.
These uncomfortable consequences – stated or implied – usually involve the threat of physical harm; embarrassment; or the lose of prestige, stature, an opportunity, employment and so on. You get the idea.
People that intimidate are bullies. They are cowards and often have been bullied themselves and weren’t strong enough to stand up to the bully. When someone stands up to bully, the bully usually backs off. When we don’t stand up to a bully, they feel more emboldened and their bullying and threats become more frequent and more severe.
When we give into a bully, we are hurting the country. How? Well first, when we don’t resist intimidation, something happens that shouldn’t or something isn’t happening that should. Second, if we don’t resist intimidation, we essentially lose our freedom to speak or act in a way that is in the best interest of the country. And we don’t feel good about ourselves.
Political correctness is a result of intimidation. Political correctness eminates from our unwillingness to say what we think for fear that someone will call us a name.
When a citizen in a democracy can be intimidated, their actions are co-opted by someone else.
Ralph Waldo Emerson has a relevant quote – “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
If I were to rank the citizen actions, this one would be right at the top of the list.

Take a Course on American History.

When I think of this action, I am reminded of how important it is to many adopted children to find out where they came from – to find their birth parents – in an effort to help them understand who they are and how their personal history is composed. Knowing our roots helps put our life in a real perspective, even if the reality isn’t what we hoped for.

Understanding the history of this country is important for similar reasons. It has taken so much to get from our colonial status in 1776 to today’s modern world – wars, day-to-day hardship, courage, imagination, creativity, going against the norm, and so on.

Understanding our country’s history helps us see things in perspective and helps us avoid making the same mistakes in the future. It makes us aware of what it took to attain our freedoms and reminds us of what we must do to keep them. If one doesn’t appreciate what one has and what it took to attain it, it is easy not to give it the respect and attention it needs. And history has shown that when a country takes what is has for granted and begins to believe that it is entitled to what it has, decline begins. Good things are worth taking care of and what we have in this country is generally quite good.

Taking a course on American History is a good way to understand our history. Taking a course, as opposed to reading a book, gives one an opportunity to discuss historical events with others and hear other perspectives.

There is a wonderful series of U.S. history videos for kids developed by TimeCycle Academy.

Tell Someone When You Don't Approve of Their Actions.

Most of what other people do is not our business. Fortunately in this country, each of us gets to live our own life in our own way and not according to how someone else wants us to live it. However, we are also a society, and, because of that, each of us must make certain accommodations to our behavior.

When someone acts in a way that is detrimental to the society, we, as members of the society, have the responsibility to let that person know that their actions weren’t in the best interest of the society. Easier said than done, but our actions impact others and eventually our society.

Saying something to someone who does something you don’t approve us is one of the toughest “citizen actions” in this book. We like to get along and we like to be liked.

Some of the citizen actions are more difficult and require more sacrifice than others and this is one of those. These are the small sacrifices that make a huge difference. Standing and speaking up not only helps keep the country strong but it makes us feel good about ourselves.

Allow yourself to voice disapproval of actions that undermine our freedoms.


Voting is the essence of democracy. Failing to vote is to become a member of what the media calls the “silent majority” and to open the door for the demise of democracy. The reality is that in a democracy the notion of a “silent majority” is an oxymoron. A more accurate term would be the “silent minority”. To not vote is to take the “by the people” out of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address’ “Government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

To vote “properly”, one needs to be eligible; be registered; know the issues and the candidates’ position on them; know where to vote; and finally to cast one’s vote.

Voter Eligibility

To be eligible to vote, one must:

  • be a citizen of the United Statesbe a resident of the state in which they intend to registerbe at least 18 years as of the day of the next election to voteNOT be in prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony.
  • be registered 29 days prior to the election.

Voter Registration

To be eligible to vote, one must first register. One can register or get registration information in a variety of ways:

  • through your local Department of Motor Vehicle,
  • through your county’s Registrar of Voters or Elections Office,
  • many states allow one to fill out a voter registration form on-line or to
  • download and print a registration form – often via the state’s Secretary of State website.
  • via specific voter registration websites.

Whom to Vote For?

To vote effectively, one must understand the issues and compare candidates. In most states, Voter Information Pamphlets are sent to registered voters prior to an election. These pamphlets usually contain information about the issues and candidates. Also a number of web sites offer election information.

Smart Voter is a Web site that offers personalized election information based on a voter’s address. Try it out!

Citizen Actions

We have identified impactful citizen actions, explained why they matter, and grouped them into 6 categories:

  • Heritage – Actions that remind us of our heritage.
  • Democratic Process – Actions that involve us in the democratic process.
  • Special Groups – Actions that support special groups with a responsibility for keeping the country strong.
  • Government – Actions that help us understand our government.
  • Community – Actions that promote a sense of community.
  • Individuals & Families – Actions that strengthen individuals and families.

Instructional Materials (free)

For teachers

Who would like to supplement the citizenship component of a social studies curriculum or character education program like Character Counts.

For parents

Looking for guidance in raising involved and effective citizens.

For boy and girl scouts

Working toward citizenship-related pins, patches, and badges

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