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Citizenship and Global Citizenship at Citizen University

The other day, I received a brand new Indian passport booklet in the mail and I suddenly realized that I’ve never exercised this particular citizen muscle; I’ve never voted and I’ve lived outside of India for most of my adult life. It’s ironic then that this booklet was the single most important evidence of my identity as I traveled as a fellow and pursued a citizenship of a different kind. It felt like I was missing a key piece of the Global Citizenship experience by not knowing what citizenship itself encompasses. Fortunately, Lars Dietzel, SF Interactivity Coordinator and I got to hear some very enlightening points of view on this at the Citizenship University conference in Seattle last month.

The lineup of luminaries was nothing short of a TED Conference, with the likes of Howard Gardner, Gavin Newsom, Steven Johnson and many others. Even though the audience was comprised of US American citizens, the takeaways applied for global citizens anywhere. Howard Gardner put it well: the youth of today define citizenship much more as activism than patriotism. In this respect, the Melton Foundation’s position on Global Citizenship aligns well.

Gavin Newsom gave his perspective as active citizenship influencing political, social and economic issues versus the other way around; Steven Johnson spoke about tapping the power of peer networks. Several speakers spoke anecdotally, about immigration, self-governance, openness and critical thought. As possibly the only attendees who were not US Americans, Lars and I were immediately able to bring alternative perspectives on issues like immigration, cultural diversity and openness to the table. You can listen to the talks here.

The conference inspired many conversations and introspections. How do we Fellows use our entitlements as citizens of our own countries to the fullest extent? What are those critical points where we, the ones that wear the badge of Global Citizenship, should intervene on local issues? What are our strengths as digital immigrants and how can we convert that into localized activism?

If you’ve read the wikipedia page on Global Citizenship, you’ll immediately recognize that there’s more to it than that. The world that we’ve created for ourselves in the Melton Foundation is working proof that we can surpass the geo-political definition of global citizenship. Which leaves me wondering: Should there be a day when I could get a Global Citizen Passport, what would it really stand for?