July 11, 2018 Common Good

Associations Make Citizenship Possible

On America’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence, it is helpful to ask what independence is used for. Continuing our discussion on associations, we see how they activate citizenship in ways that systems (such as government) cannot.

An association… is a means to make power rather than giving it away. This new associational tool involved using these community powers:  

  • The power to decide what needs to be done. This power is not delegated to experts. It is based upon the belief that local citizens, connected together, have the special ability to know what needs doing in their community.
  • The power to decide how we could do what needs to be done. Here again, local knowledge is the basic expertise.
  • The power to join with one’s neighbors to do what needs to be done.

The association is the tool that allows us to produce the future we envision. A citizen is a person with the awesome power to determine and create a common future. And so it is that the association makes citizenship possible. It empowers us because neighbors can decide what needs to be done and how it can be done—and, of greatest importance, they are the people who can do it.

As you celebrate with friends and family, note the ways that association life calls forth the freedom to freely join neighbors in deciding what and how to do what you are passionate about. Is there a particular friend or community hero who makes such association-life possible for you? Maybe a call or a card, or sharing a cool summer drink would be a way to help them know this.


McKnight, John. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (pp. 125-126). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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