13. Local Citizenship!

On today’s episode, we will discuss the idea of Local citizenship! When national governments can’t, or don’t want to, deal with immigrant populations, it falls to local governments and decision makers to make proactive policies!

(If you can’t see the podcast player click here to listen!)

VOCABULARY 

To be concentrated (passive v) – to bring or come together in a large number or amount in one particular area

Most of the country’s population is concentrated in the north

To delegate (v) – to give a particular job, duty, right, etc. to someone else so that they do it for you

As a boss you have to delegate responsibilities to your staff

To devolve (v) – to cause power or responsibility to be given to other people

To be a good manager, you must know how to devolve responsibility downwards 

vague (adj) – not clearly expressed, known, described, or decided

I do have a vague memory of meeting her many years ago

Decision-maker (n) – a person who decides things, especially at a high level in an organisation

SHe faces long hours and extreme pressure in her position as the top decision-maker in the company 

Proactive (adj) – taking action by causing change and not only reacting to change when it happens

Companies are going to have to be more proactive about environmental management  

fortunate (adj) – lucky

You’re very fortunate to have found such a nice house

supplementary (adj) – added to something else in order to improve it or complete it

Teachers often create supplementary materials for their classes

To contradict (v) – to say the opposite of what someone else has said, or to be so different from another fact or statement that one of them must be wrong 

Over the last few weeks, I have released episodes on citizenship and multiculturalism. Episode 5 looked at how we become citizens, and what it means to be a citizen. Then episode 8 discussed the different ways countries try to include immigrants and naturalised citizens into their societies. However, I have made an assumption in those two episodes which is not necessarily true. I have talked a lot about national governments. Or I have referred to countries. Of course, the national government of a country is the most important and powerful part of any country’s politics. The important decisions on how a country is run, including how government money is spent, national defence, and relationships with other countries, are all taken at that national level. However, by no means are all decisions made by national governments. Only in a very few countries is political power concentrated exclusively in the hands of the President, Prime Minister, or senior politicians. Think about it this way. Does your country’s national government decide when your trash is collected? Or the opening hours of your local public library? Or how much to pay the people who cut the grass in the local public park? Of course they don’t. Governments are busy. Really busy. There are thousands and thousands of decisions that they have to make every year, and they don’t have time to make every single decision across the country. 

In almost every country, the national government will delegate or devolve their power and responsibilities. For example, the national government will keep the power to make decisions that affect the whole country. Then maybe they will give power to regions, states, or prefectures to make decisions about issues that affect that area. And then power can be devolved even further. In the UK, for example, we have the National government, separate parliaments and leaders for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, county councils, city councils, and town councils. Each organization has responsibilities and powers concerning their area of interest. The national government might give vague policy recommendations, but it is often up to local politicians and leaders to actually implement the policy. 

So, what does this have to do with citizenship and multiculturalism? Well, these issues are just like any other; national governments do not make every decision or choice on these issues. In episode 8 we talked about three different ideas for dealing with immigrants and citizenship; exclusion, assimilation, and multiculturalism. Let’s imagine your country decides to exclude immigrants from society and the benefits of citizenship. So the national government makes no policies to help immigrants live in your country, does nothing to include them in decisions, and generally ignores immigrant problems. However, while national politicians can do this, it is not so easy for local decision makers. Let’s imagine your town has a large immigrant population (maybe they are working in local factories or studying at a prestigious university). Maybe they can’t speak the local language and don’t understand the local culture. Who is going to help them open bank accounts? What if their children need to go to school? What happens if they get sick or injured at work and need support? While national governments can ignore these problems, local governments cannot do the same! When immigrant populations are ignored, there are major social and economic consequences. Poverty, dissatisfaction, racism, and crime are just a few. When the national government is uninterested, local level decision makers around the world have had to make proactive decisions to offer support to immigrants. 

This is what we call local citizenship. When immigrants cannot have national citizenship, maybe they are offered support at a local level. Examples of local citizenship include support for immigrant children in public schools, writing essential documents and offering services in multiple languages, and funding multicultural activities. I actually have personal experience of local citizenship. While I lived in Japan, I was fortunate enough to attend local language lessons that were funded by the City council. The main target for these classes were not really people like me, but longer term immigrants. Many of my classmates were ship builders and construction workers, engineers, and foreign spouses of Japanese citizens. They came from all around the world, but especially South East Asia, China, Korea, and Brazil. The Japanese government has traditionally been relatively anti-immigrantion in its policies. There are no national multicultural policies, and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated only 2 years ago that “Japan is not an immigrant country”. However, it is different for regions and cities. They are responsible for the well being of all of their residents and taxpayers, including non-citizens and immigrants. And by offering some support, even when the national government does not do the same, local communities are able to start including immigrants, avoid some of the social problems caused by ignoring them, and often create a happier and more peaceful community

Final Thought

Examples of local government initiatives include language instruction, consultation services, school based supplementary education, as well as maps, information about local government offices, community newsletters and guides to daily life in a range of foreign languages. Some places have gone further, offering public housing, social welfare, health insurance and emergency care, and even forms of political representation. There is often a major difference between what a national government says, and what happens in reality. Not just in terms of citizenship, but often in terms of every policy! This is because politicians and leaders at the national level do not always understand, or care about, what is really happening in local communities. Instead, it is the responsibility of councils, assemblies, and local organisations across the world to look after their local residents. What does this mean for the future? If local citizenship is successful, do you think more countries will actually adopt national multiculturalism? And is it right for local governments to contradict national governments?

What do you think?

COMPREHENSION QUESTIONS

Q. WHat are some of the social and economic problems caused by ignoring immigrant issues? 

A.Poverty, dissatisfaction, racism, and crime are just a few

Q. Where did I used to live?

A.Japan

Q. True or false? Former Prime Minister Shizo Abe said “Japan is an immigrant country”

A.False

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