American football players take a knee during the national anthem John Leyba/Getty Images

The Power of Active Citizenship

Many have wondered why American football players, who often make millions of dollars per season, are protesting injustice. But being an active and engaged citizen means being authentic and empathetic – which requires that we consider not only what an issue means for us, individually, but also how it affects others.

LONDON – The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the country’s largest labor organization, recently held what were billed as the largest popular protests since the end of apartheid, over chronic corruption and state capture. In Moldova, citizens continue to protest a controversial electoral law that favors the country’s two largest political parties, at the expense of smaller movements. In the United States, professional football players are taking a knee during the national anthem to draw attention to police violence against black people.

As different as these examples of public protest are, they have one thing in common: they reflect efforts by ordinary citizens to hold not just their governments, but also companies and other institutions, to account. Such actions, and the right of citizens to organize and participate in them, are essential to a vital democratic society, especially during tumultuous times.

There is no doubt that these are tumultuous times. US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have been exchanging incendiary rhetoric, causing many to fear a war on the Korean Peninsula – and perhaps a nuclear clash. Large-scale natural disasters – hurricanes in Puerto Rico, floods in South Asia, earthquakes in Mexico – have brought massive damage and loss of life, and not nearly enough relief aid.

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