Sunday, October 11, 2009

America's National Parks and the Lessons of Advanced Citizenship

The dominant sub-theme of Ken Burns’ documentary series National Parks had to be the role of concerned American citizens who, either individually or collectively, took it upon themselves to take all political, economic, polemical, intellectual, and scientific measures to preserve and protect America’s natural treasures—which over the course of decades and centuries would later become America’s national treasures.

Time and again throughout Burns’ series one saw American citizens: male and female, young and old, rich and poor, eccentric and ordinary, the famous and obscure, outsiders and locals, the politically connected and the socially dispossessed rolling up their sleeves and going to work using extraordinary methods and tactics to maintain those parts of America which define the American experience so that Americans and foreign visitors can understand what makes our country so beautiful.

What Ken Burns’ documentary reaffirmed was what actor Michael Douglas called “advanced citizenship” in the movie American President; behind every great movement and action in American history were ordinary citizens using their collective talents, energies, and resources to make their country (and later on the world) a better place for themselves and their fellow citizens. Without that spirit of advanced citizenship there would have been no American Revolution; no Declaration of Independence or Constitution or Bill of Rights; no movement to grant women the right to vote and, later on, their right to an equal place in society; no movement to grant African-Americans (and other minorities) their full civil rights; no military triumphs in two world wars against militarism and fascism; no eventual triumph over communism. Even now it is advanced citizenship that is working today to keep America safe from another 9/11 type of attack.

Advanced citizenship has nothing to do with liberalism or conservatism. It is simply concerned American citizens who, when faced with a major crisis, resolving not to wring their hands and accept the supposed helplessness or powerlessness of their situation; joining forces with others who share their concerns and, most important of all,


That is what makes America beautiful.

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