Engage today, vote tomorrow

By Rachel Gittinger, CARECEN Citizenship Coordinator

What is citizenship?

Take a moment to answer.

An impromptu poll I conducted revealed that most people will say something like:

  • An obligation to your country
  • A privilege
  • A sense of belonging
  • An investment in the good of society
  • National pride

One answer I have never received?   A certificate

Far more than a certificate, citizenship is a lifestyle.  Passing the test and receiving a certificate of naturalization is merely a step on the journey of U.S. citizenship – a journey that should continue with ongoing advocacy and participation.

In the words of John Adams, “remember that all the end of study is to make you a good man and a useful citizen.”  At CARECEN, we take these words to heart.  We don’t teach to the test- we teach far beyond it.

The idea that “we the people” hold the power of government can be a difficult concept to internalize.  This is especially true for students who fled their countries in times of war or dictatorship.  Many of these students’ experiences state that freedom of speech, petitioning the government, and civil protests are dangerous ideas with serious consequences.  As soon-to-be-U.S. citizens, it is essential that our students understand the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and feel confident engaging with their government on both the local and national stage.   We work to build this confidence by including civic engagement opportunities in our curriculum, which offer students a safe place to make that first call to a Senator, write to a representative, or participate in a community meeting.  Successfully completing these activities gives students confidence, builds community, and furthers their understanding of what it truly means to be a U.S. citizen. 

Here are just a few examples of civic engagement activities from this session of class:

  • Sign a petition to include residency for TPS holders in the immigration reform
  • Decorate signs for and/or participate in April 10th immigration rally
  • Call Congress and urge them to support comprehensive immigration reform
  • Attend a community forum and sign up to testify at the D.C. council.
  • Sign a petition for the “One Community: One License” campaign in D.C.
  • Serve as peer motivators and speak to upcoming students after receiving their citizenship


Students prepare banners for an immigration reform rally

Our students are well on their way to becoming the movers and shakers of tomorrow.  By practicing civic participation today, they will be prepared to be make informed choices, vote, and engage responsibly once granted all the opportunities that U.S. citizenship offers!

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