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What I Really Know About Civic Duty: Up With People

The AARP Bulletin's "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Below, reader Elizabeth L. Cowart of Evans, Ga., shares what she really knows about civic duty.

The term “civic duty” sends me back in time to junior high school in the 1960s. We were a passionate, hopeful bunch of aspiring hippies and yuppies, dreamers and schemers, bent on making the world a better place. We attended assemblies in foul-smelling gymnasiums and sang along with the musical sunshine of Up With People. We fervently believed in equality and the possibility of world peace.

We fought to save the planet from pollution and, fearing overpopulation, vowed never to have more than 1.5 children. We learned in civics class that it was our duty to obey all laws, pay taxes, vote, serve on a jury and serve in the military if necessary. We bought savings bonds, Girl Scout cookies and Boy Scout soap. We worked as volunteers for local political candidates, sported campaign buttons and debated the issues of the day.

Then we came face to face with Vietnam and adulthood, sometimes not in that order. We became cynical and dropped out, sat in, freaked and streaked. We grew up—and reemerged in a world created by our own greed and naiveté.

Now I know that cookies and soap and passionate speeches don’t change the world. But civic engagement still matters. Keeping up with the world and where it’s going by reading, writing letters, voting and participating in local politics is still important. And it’s acceptable to be skeptical; perhaps skepticism is one sure sign that an aging mind remains alive and well.

That and those darn Up With People lyrics still rumbling around in our heads: “If more people were for people, all people everywhere, there’d be a lot less people to worry about and a lot more people who care.”

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