A word that is all over my world right now: Citizen. Of course it’s all over the wide world too, but I encounter it in some particular and lovely ways that are not necessarily the ways of the wide world. (For countenancing the wide-world context, see CultureStrike’s “Migration is Beautiful” project, and support nonviolent direct action here if you have the means.).
Way the First: “Citizen Artist.” Enlisting as a Citizen Artist is one method of participation in the US Department of Arts and Culture. “Citizen Artists need not self-define as artists or be U.S. citizens in the legal sense of the word! Rather, we welcome anyone who believes that these times call for a deep investment in creativity and imagination; everyone who wants to apply their gifts to a more just and vibrant world.” Isn’t that beautiful?! Go sign up here.
Way the Second: I’m re-reading Peter Block’s book “Community: The Structure of Belonging.” If you’ve ever heard me give “creating a future distinct from the past” as context for some nutty process I invite you to participate in…this is the source! And “citizen” is on every page of this book, probably in every paragraph. Citizens are the stars of this show. I don’t think PB tries to give one definition of “citizen” (he gives more like 1000 and lets you pick), but I would synthesize these as “community co-creator.” I have, still, a powerful emotional memory of the first time I read this book (I wrote about it here), and the word that I couldn’t get over in that reading was “invite.” I wonder wonder wonder what the word will be the next time I read this book.
Way the Third: CTZN. This is an app! I sometimes have aesthetic revulsion at even the word “app”* but this one is what maybe apps are supposed to be: a way to do something else that matters to you. This one says about itself: “CTZN is a free, cross-platform tool released by GOOD Worldwide Inc., to bring changemakers together in a space dedicated to capturing and broadcasting their social impact.” The USDAC uses it to create the big collaborative artworks that are/result from national actions like Dare to Imagine and the People’s State of the Union…it sort of functions like a cross between Facebook and Dropbox for participants in these actions. Anyway: it’s great! And I get to think “citizen” a zillion times a day during these actions.
So, as I do when a word reverberates through my day in myriad ways, I hie myself to 1934 to see what the what.
There’s a lot here, but to be honest, I don’t like much of it, though that adjectival form is fascinating. The whole thing mostly reads as the way the USDAC has to explain it doesn’t mean citizen. The OeD has all this, and also: “Replaced Old English burhsittend and ceasterware” which I enjoy. I also like that the “-zen” is a late add, from “denizen.” Which is itself interesting:
But again: it’s interesting morphologically, rather than, you know, full of beauty and meaning, which is what I am after when I open the dictionary.
So, fine, let’s try “city.”
There it is! The OeD has much more; here’s a bit, with some beauty and meaning in bold:
city (n.) early 13c., in medieval usage a cathedral town, but originally “any settlement,” regardless of size (distinction from town is 14c., though in English it always seems to have ranked above borough), from Old French cite “town, city” (10c., Modern French cité), from earlier citet, from Latin civitatem (nominative civitas; in Late Latin sometimes citatem) originally “citizenship, condition or rights of a citizen, membership in the community,” later “community of citizens, state, commonwealth” (used, for instance of the Gaulish tribes), from civis “townsman,” from PIE root *kei- “to lie; bed, couch; homestead; beloved, dear.”
This gives me what I need to love and own “citizen,” as a combination of (the histories of) “denizen” and “city”: an indweller of any beloved settlement, regardless of size… including a bed or couch.
Good God: what if “belovedness to the indweller” was the legal criteria of citizenship in a settlement? That’s a future distinct from the past that it takes some daring to imagine, from this couch, in this settlement. Luckily, because I am a very citizen (recall:”city-bred, effeminate,” [“effeminate” started life meaning “womanly, voluptuous, and tender”]) citizen, I have daring coming out of my ceasterware.
*You know the Tom Waits song “I Don’t Want to Grow Up”? I like to make up alternate verses, and I think my best one is “I don’t want to have to read no maps, I don’t want to have to download apps.”