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The Importance of Active Citizenship

This Fourth of July, I'm reflecting on the importance of being engaged in our nation -- and our community.

Reminder: The RCA elections are closing this Sunday, July 8th.  If you haven't voted yet, go over to RCA's website, click the Vote for RCA Directors Here!" button, and cast your ballot today.  Thanks for your support!

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Happy Fourth of July, everyone!  I hope you all have your power back, and you haven't suffered too much damage from last Friday's .  I imagine a lot of you are planning to celebrate the holiday in the time-honored fashion.  Perhaps you've fired up the grill, and you're consuming some nice cold beverages while you cook your dogs and burgers.  Perhaps you enjoyed (as I did) watching the Nats beat up the Giants in today's game.  Perhaps you're planning to watch (or launch) some tonight.

All of these are fine ways to spend the Fourth.  But I hope that you'll take a few minutes to reflect on the meaning of the day, and remember what our founders had in mind when they created this country.

It's easy to take America and the American idea for granted, but it's worth remembering what a bold idea this was.  When our founders declared independence from England, and then went to war to secure that independence, they weren't just trying to get out of paying some taxes.  They wanted to create a nation where our people would be truly represented, a democracy where we the people could decide our own fate and our own direction.

What our founders created is, in my opinion, the greatest nation in the world, with a great system of government.  But it comes with a catch.  Democracy has a lot of benefits, but it's not the easiest system of government.  It requires leaders who are willing to put the best interests of the country ahead of their own personal gain.  It requires a spirit of shared commitment to the nation.  And most of all, it requires an informed, engaged, and active citizenry.

Democracy only works if the citizens are willing to take the time and effort to be involved in governance.  Since we're not a direct emocracy, we're not all required to spend time legislating.  But we are required to select our legislators, to figure out who's best suited to represent us, and to stay informed on what's going on.  In short, we need to take our citizenship seriously.

What's true nationally is also true locally.  Reston's founder, , envisioned a new kind of community, one that is open to people of all races, ethnicities, economic classes, and stages of life.  It's a community where we can live, work, and play, where economic vitality stands side-by-side with natural beauty.  In my opinion, it's the best community in the nation.  But in order for it to stay that way, we Restonians need to stay active and engaged in its planning and future.

The community of Reston didn't just happen.  Bob Simon created a vision, and our pioneer generation of citizens brought that vision to life.  Being an early Restonian meant being involved.  You more or less had to be, if you wanted to see things get done.  Those citizens, working through organizations like RCA, built the kind of community they wanted to live in.  They worked with our elected leaders to build institutions like a commuter bus service, the Reston Community Center, and the Access urgent care facility.  They created the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee, to ensure that new development in Reston conformed with Bob's vision -- and the citizens' expectation -- for our community.  The pioneer Restonians didn't just live here; they rolled up their sleeves and got involved.

Today, we're fortunate in that we get to reap the benefits of their hard work and commitment.  But that doesn't mean we can lay back and take it all for granted.  Our infrastructure is aging, and we're going to need to renew or rebuild much of it in the coming years.  The Silver Line is going to bring new people, new opportunities, and new challenges to Reston.  We need engaged citizens now more than ever.  If we don't pay attention, we risk losing those qualities and institutions that make Reston special.

I know that it's not easy to be an active citizen.  We have jobs and commutes and household chores and kids to raise, never mind our own hobbies and interests.  We're all so busy.  It's not easy to find the time to be an active citizen.  But it's vital that we do it.

So how can you be an active citizen?  Staying involved with local issues is a good first step.  If you read Reston Patch, you already know more about what's happening here than most Restonians.  Keep an eye on what's going on.  I suggest paying particular attention to the , which is making decisions that will shape the face of Reston for decades to come.

Get to know your neighbors.  And get to know about Restonians in need, and be ready to help when they need it.  I was inspired by the way our citizens to give food and supplies to Lake Anne Fellowship House and Embry Rucker Shelter after they lost power in last week's storm.  It's a great sign that our citizens are looking out for their less fortunate neighbors.

Get to know more about the community organization that serve you.  Make sure to vote in the elections for RA, RCC, and RCA (going on now!).  If you find yourself particularly interested in a particular organization or cause, consider volunteering.  Every organization in Reston would be grateful for even a little of your time and help.  But even if you don't have the time to serve your community this way, find out who is serving, and stay informed on their efforts.

Reston's a wonderful place to live, work, and play.  I'm grateful for the chance to serve and give back to the community that gave me so much growing up.  This Fourth of July, I hope you'll commit to being an active citizen, so that you can help ensure that our community remains a special place well into the future. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Ken Fredgren July 05, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Beautifully put, Colin. Thoughtful, Insightful. Thanks.
Colin Mills July 05, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Thank you for the compliment, Ken! I know of no one who embodies the concept of "active citizenship" better than you do. I hope you and your family had a terrific Fourth.

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