Nancy Leifer and Nancy Maxson, Co-Presidents of the League of Women Voters of Missoula
Last week in this column we discussed the legal definition of US citizenship, a legal status that is conferred by the government. Who is defined as a legal citizen is determined by people who have political power. Legal citizenship excludes people who don’t meet specific requirements, and those “requirements” mirror the prejudices prevalent in each historic era.
But citizenship can be defined more broadly and more inclusively, focusing on community and fellowship. Presidents frequently begin their speeches with “my fellow Americans,” greeting all listeners as citizens of the United States community.
This “fellowship” is a community of interest, activity, feeling or experience. Community is a group of people meeting to pursue a shared interest or aim. The members of that community are its citizens.
Citizens are people who care. They care about their communities and the future and use their voices to express themselves, even if they may not have a vote. We care for our fellow citizens when we educate our children, protect our elders and defend the vulnerable.
One new definition for a citizen in 2020 is “anyone who could contract Covid-19”. We are all in this together. All of us are Corona Virus citizens. Corona Virus citizens include people who may lack legal residence status, don’t have shelter, don’t speak English, are unemployed, have disabilities and come from every cultural background.
We care for our fellow citizens, especially in times like this. Caring can be giving to charity, volunteering, paying your taxes, voting, taking political action and respecting the law. Caring as a citizen in this time of Corona Virus means wearing a face mask while in public, respecting social distancing, washing your hands often, and isolating if you are ill.
News stories of late have carried images of angry people protesting wearing masks. It is true that when you wear a face mask, it does not guarantee that you will be protected from the virus. However, study after study has shown that wearing a face mask does a great deal to prevent you from spreading the virus to others. It is becoming clear that some people, estimates vary from 15-40% or more of those who have the virus, do not feel sick, allowing them to spread the virus without knowing they have it. Others are contagious for several days before they show any symptoms, allowing them to spread the virus before they know they have it. Wearing a face mask that covers your mouth and nose prevents you from spreading virus particles to others.
It is a mark of citizenship to do what we are asked to do to help protect others in our community. In this time of shared citizenship in the nation of Corona Virus, wearing a face mask is a responsibility of citizenship.
Nancy Maxson and Nancy Leifer, Co-Presidents, League of Women Voters Missoula.
The League of Women Voters has been registering voters and providing non-partisan voting information for over 100 years. Membership is open to men and women, citizens and non-citizens over the age of 16. For more information about the Missoula League, go to our website: lwvmissoula.org.