An award-winning journalist offers a prescription for a nation adrift: citizen initiatives on behalf of the common good.
For Kiernan (Last Rights: Rescuing the End of Life from the Medical System, 2006), patriotism is more than a set of beliefs or a matter of opinion—authentic patriotism is action, work that solves some of today’s toughest problems. To recover America’s greatness, he says, we must look neither to a cumbersome government nor an indifferent marketplace, but rather to the courage, determination and willingness to sacrifice—the traits that characterized the Founders—of ordinary citizens making a difference in their communities and beyond. In a friendly, readable text, the author introduces people like Jennifer Estess, who founded Project ALS, responsible for groundbreaking research in attacking Lou Gehrig’s disease; Christopher Moore, founder of the Chicago Children’s Choir, whose multiracial composition and high artistic standards serve as a model for cooperation and achievement; Dr. Jack McConnell, who established the Volunteers in Medicine clinic for the poor and underserved in wealthy Hilton Head, S.C.; Barry Scheck, whose well-known Innocence Project, through its pioneering use of science in the courtroom, has freed hundreds of wrongly convicted prisoners; Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, builder of parks and fierce opponent of unthinking environmental racism; and Tara Diane, whose decision to donate an organ made an impact that extended far beyond a single, benevolent deed. Though the author focuses on these six people, Kiernan looks at scores of other folks, some famous—environmental author Bill McKibben, singer Dolly Parton, tree-sitter Julia Butterfly—but most not, whose simple decisions to engage with their community has vastly improved the lives of others. The author identifies the signal elements of an act of authentic patriotism: It makes excellent economic sense; it can be duplicated elsewhere; it rewards the helper every bit as much as the helped; it sends out ripples of benign consequence in directions perhaps unforeseen. He concludes with a call for everyone to make a sacrifice, no matter how small, for a civic renewal worthy of our ideals.
A good-hearted and hardheaded appeal.