United States is a democratic country which, as Abraham Lincoln puts, has "government of the people, by the people, for the people". To simplify, in a democratic nation, it is the citizens who form and run the government and the government takes actions listening to the voice of the citizens. A citizen is defined as an official member of a country. In USA, anyone born in the country gets citizenship by birth. Immigrants also become citizens of USA through naturalization. But one doesn't become a true American and citizen of a country just by acquiring citizenship. In order to be a true citizen of one's own country, one has to love and respect the values that form the essence of the country. United States is a nation not restricted by a race or religion. The basic foundation of USA is based on the shared values of freedom, liberty and equality among all the US citizens (UCIS). The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution guarantees its citizens several civil rights including freedom of expression, right to vote, rights of religious freedom, right to bear arms, right to a fair trial, right to privacy, right against unreasonable searches and seizures and so on. But USA was not always a country that promoted equal rights for all its citizens. US history is marked by long periods of injustice and unfair treatment meted out to women and black Americans. The American Indians were viewed as aliens and they were driven into reserved territories beyond the civilization boundary. Black Americans were considered as slaves and personal property of their masters with no voting rights. Women had no right to vote and were toys in the hands of their husbands. De Tocqueville rightly wrote in his book 'Democracy in America' that "a woman loses her independence forever in the bonds of matrimony" (CRF). It is through years of rebellion and protests that America has become the country it is now with all its citizens irrespective of color, creed and religion enjoying equal rights and freedom in the country. This paper will discuss upon USA as a democratic nation and the roles and responsibilities of the citizenry in democracy.
The first responsibility of the citizens of a democratic country is to take participation in votes. Theoretically democracy is a political system in which common people have the right to choose their government through fair elections. People have sovereign power and they can decide who would represent them in the parliament and who would be their leaders in national and state level. Since democracy grants citizens the right to choose their leaders, citizens need to fulfill their responsibilities towards their nation by following the rules and obligations required in the selection of their leaders. In order to choose the leaders, citizens in a democratic country need to exercise their voting rights. In USA, at 18 years people can register for giving votes. But it seems many Americans these days don't value the power of voting rights. At the time when De Tocqueville visited America in 1831, 70% or more of the voters turned out on Election Day, whereas the number is fewer than 50% today (CRF). Voting is a right that endows the citizenry with the power to choose a leader whose decisions will affect their life. By refusing to take part in vote, one refuses to take part in democracy. By refusing to exercise voting right, one shies away from the most important responsibility he has towards his nation. In an election, every vote plays the role of a decisive factor and that is why every citizen of USA should abide by the responsibility of giving votes because based on their votes, a leader is elected. Further, citizens should make an informed voting choice which means that the decision to give vote to a particular party or representative should be based on facts and information. Citizens need to be informed to make sure that they are selecting the right candidate as leader who best represents their values and beliefs.
Another important responsibility of a citizen in a democracy is to pay taxes on time. Taxes help the government pay for fire protection, maintain roads, schools, public parks and so on. There are various types of taxes in place in USA such as state income tax, federal income tax, excise tax, social security tax, property tax and sales tax. Each of these taxes pays for different kinds of public services and programs. For instance, federal taxes are used in paying for Medicare doctors, FBI agents, national park rangers, federal judges, federal prisons and others. State taxes pay for public schools, state highways, universities, police officers and state parks (Utah Education Network).
Obeying the federal, state and local laws are one of the major responsibilities of a citizen. Laws are the rules and regulations which ensure that a society is governed properly. It also ensures that one’s rights and privileges are honored. Laws are necessary as no society can function properly if everyone does what they think is right. Respect for the law is of utmost importance. Federal and state government ensures that anyone who violates the law is punished. Having a deep rooted respect for law ensures that the society will function in a smooth and disciplined way. Americans by nature have huge affection for their own rights which are protected by laws. However, to ensure one’s rights are protected, the basic responsibility of all citizens is to abide by the law of the land.
The right to trial by a jury is a fundamental right for anyone on United States soil whether he is a citizen or not. State and federal courts require jurors from the society. Jurors ensure that the American right of trial by a jury is protected. Twelve jurors are required for civil or criminal trial (Utah Education Network). After the hearing jurors must try to decide if the defendant is guilty. Serving as a juror may be viewed by many as an inconvenience. On the other hand, many people find it a great learning experience. If an individual is selected for the jury duty then it is his responsibility to fulfill what is expected of him as a juror.
Another basic responsibility for an American citizen is to serve as a witness. Witnesses in many cases are the final words for deciding a defendant’s guilt. If someone is called to testify in some trial it is a responsibility of every citizen to go and present himself as a witness and tell the truth under the oath.
Every American citizen bears some responsibility towards his local community and his country. All citizens should make endeavors to uplift the local community and try to improve the quality of life for the individuals living within the community. It is also a necessity for each individual to stay informed about the issues that are affecting the local community and also the nation. Staying informed will help citizens take effective decisions which will be beneficial for both the community and country.
As per the Selective Service law all male citizens of USA have a responsibility to register their names for the draft as soon as they turn 18 (Utah Education Network). Registering in the draft does not mean that each and every male has to serve in military but if the country requires more military forces in times of crisis, it may call upon more drafted male citizens to serve the country by joining the military forces. Women do not have the same responsibility to serve the country as per the Selective Service law.
In conclusion, unlike dictatorship a democratic government’s main aim is to serve the people. But it is not the responsibility of the government alone to maintain a democracy. The citizens also have many mandatory responsibilities and duties to ensure that the democracy is maintained in the country. For US citizens, the mandatory responsibilities as per the constitution are participation in jury duty, paying federal, state and local taxes, obeying laws and serve as a witness. The US citizens also have a fundamental right and duty to vote. Democracy gives many freedoms to the citizens like freedom of speech and religious practice. The fulfillment of the role and responsibilities of an American citizen ensures that citizens are aware of their rights and duties towards their nation. It also ensures proper functioning of the country with every citizen of America taking participation in the democratic process.
Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS). Retrieved on 1st October 2013 from <http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.749cabd81f5ffc8fba713d10526e0aa0/?vgnextoid=39d2df6bdd42a210VgnVCM100000b92ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=39d2df6bdd42a210VgnVCM100000b92ca60aRCRD>
The Citizen in de Tocqueville's America. Constitutional Rights Foundation (CRF). Retrieved on 1st October 2013 from <http://www.crf-usa.org/election-central/de-tocqueville-america.html>
What Does It Mean To Be A Citizen In A Democracy?. Kent State University. Retrieved on 1st October 2013 from <http://literacy.kent.edu/Oasis/Resc/Educ/vote1.html>
Citizen Responsibilities. Utah Education Network. Retrieved on 1st October 2013 from <http://www.uen.org/general_learner/civics/citizenship/responsibilities.shtml>