Windsor-native Jeff Dell after being naturalized as a U.S. citizen on December 11, 2020.
Windsor-native Jeff Dell after being naturalized as a U.S. citizen on December 11, 2020. (Dana Dell)

Multiple choices await each of us for the country to examine a tumultuous term, correct its failures and graduate to its highest degree.

Last month, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services revised the civics questions for the naturalization test for the first time since 2008. There are now 128 questions, up from 100. Answering 12 out of 20 correctly is one of the many steps for anyone applying to become a United States citizen.

Here are a few of the questions and their official answers, followed by my righteously wrong responses. To be clear, (a) I love America more than any other country in the world (b) exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually (c) I’m paraphrasing James Baldwin and not recommending these for anyone actually taking their naturalization test (d) all of the above.

  1. Why does each state have two senators?
  • Equal representation (for small states)
  • The Great Compromise (Connecticut Compromise)

By design, the Senate is undemocratic. It constitutionally underrepresents some Americans in favor of others. In 1790, Pennsylvania had about 7 times as many people as Delaware. California now has 70 times the population of Wyoming.

The Senate and Electoral College both favor rural, white Americans by orders of magnitude, so it is incumbent upon diverse metropolitan constituencies to align and advocate for their interests.

  1. How many seats are on the Supreme Court?
  • Nine (9)

The 2008 answer was “Visit for the number of justices on the Supreme Court.” Perhaps it was wishful thinking by the outgoing administration that the number of justices remain unchanged.

The Supreme Court is ultimately, if not electorally, accountable to the body politic; it is in the realm of possibility that additional justices could be necessary to ensure that accountability.

  1. Name one U.S. military conflict after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
  • (Global) War on Terror
  • War in Afghanistan
  • War in Iraq

In the months leading up to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we should be evaluating the consequences of the attacks and the country’s response. The question doesn’t say “military conflict justified by,” but we can’t overlook the extraordinary cost of the military industrial complex, nor the Patriot Act’s infringement on civil liberties, the persistence of Islamophobia, the reality that the country’s greatest terror threat is homegrown.

  1. What is the moral difference, if any, between a civilian and a citizen?
  • A citizen accepts personal responsibility for the safety of the body politic, defending it with his life, a civilian does not.

Actually, that’s from Starship Troopers, the 1997 film featuring bugs more charismatic, but less deadly than the one we’re currently battling.

Here’s the real question:

  1. What is one way Americans can serve their country?
  • Vote
  • Pay taxes
  • Obey the law
  • Serve in the military
  • Run for office
  • Work for local, state, or federal government

Okay, that’s a start — and a timely reminder for law abidance. Today, less than 12% of American adults “are involved in military, public, and national service at the local, state and federal levels” combined, according to Brookings. (In 1945, 12% of the population served in the armed forces.)

For the other 88% of us, what — beyond W-2s and I Voted stickers — might citizenship look like?

Weeds. Not weed, though marijuana legalization is as good an example as any. The weeds are those local and regional meetings, hearings, conferences, surveys, reports, etc. where our fellow citizens make decisions that affect our lives.

To get into the weeds, I recently joined the Detroit Documenters, “citizens and civic actors; creators and collaborators; representing a broad base of intergenerational, diverse communities … democratizing news & information at the local level.”

At, you can find everything you never knew you were looking for. The Great Lakes Water Authority, which services 4 million Michiganders, voting to purchase East Lake Baptist Church for $440,000 more than its appraised value. The 30,000 side lots available for purchase through the Detroit Land Bank Authority and resident Joanne Warwick’s frustration at being unable to purchase one in her neighborhood. @couponchess live tweeting the Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee.

You can see all the agencies’ upcoming meetings and add them directly to your calendar. It’s like the old saying goes — whether you think you have a stake in the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority or you don’t, you’re right.

So, yes, happy new year, new president, new senate majority, new vaccines, new normal.

And, yes, volunteer, donate, recycle, shop local, buy stamps, clean up after your dog, return your shopping cart, give pedestrians the right of way, check out library books and return them more or less on time, mask up.

Just remember that all politics is local and 2020 is hindsight.


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