Exploring our Civic Duty and Practicing Public Citizenship

Exploring our Civic Duty and Practicing Public Citizenship


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This assignment will offer us a chance to review the fundamentals of clear, effective prose and basic rhetorical principles while also introducing you to more advanced rhetorical and argumentative strategies. We will be working on making concise arguments that are targeted at specific audiences. Moreover, the assignment asks us to think about our roles as ethical public citizens by learning about issues in our neighborhoods, or places of interest, and the leaders in power to address those issues.



Required Readings (PDFs on Blackboard)


  1. King, Dr. Martin Luther. Letter from Birmingham Jail. (Also, please read the letter from the clergymen)


  1. Osborne, David. “Striking Teachers Scapegoated Charter Schools, but They’re not the Problem.” Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2019


  1. Sanders, Bernie. “Make College Free for All.” New York Times, October 2015.


  1. Staples, Brent. “The Racist Origins of Felon Disenfranchisement. New York Times, November 18, 2014.


  1. Articles you research for your specific location and issue




Much of the public’s attention around the world is focused on the global pandemic. From policy debates, to accessibility of PPE and medicine, to mass unemployment, to discussions of our individual responsibility in keeping ourselves and others safe, this public health concern is one major issue that defines our time. Meanwhile, in addition to the pandemic, the U.S. is currently focused on the national election, with concernsthat range from immigration policies to the effects of climate change tohealthcare coverage to voter suppression.


While these national issues dominate media coverage, we are often more immediately affected by local policy decisions. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti highlighted this when he announced that he would not be running for President in 2020because he felt that focusing on local issues was more important, specifically citing the recent LAUSD teachers’ strike. Now, in the midst ofa pandemic, Garcetti must focus on the health and safety of local residents through his work on mask-wearing policies, helping to keep businesses running, and dealing with the extremerise ofan alreadydistressed homeless population.


Garcetti is a politician, and he was elected to serve Los Angeles. However, we should all consider engagement with local policy an essential part of being a good public citizen, and a Trojan as well. As the USC Mission Statement declares, “The central mission of the University of Southern California is the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” In other words, USC seeks not only to broaden students’ minds and prepare them for professions, but also to produce ethical citizens who seek to improve the world in which we live.


With these things in mind, this assignment asks you to take the issue that you chose to focus on for A2 and investigate how the debate manifests on the local level. You will do this by composing either an op-ed for a local newspaper or a letter to a local public official. For instance, you might have addressed an aspect of the detrimental effects of mass incarceration in your A2; for A3, you would look at local concerns such as lack of halfway houses, lack of educational or employment opportunities, or particularly high recidivism rates in one prison or prison complex.



First, decide on the city/townin which you see an example of your particular larger issue. Then, after researching the city and the politicians in office in that community, you will choose one of the following options:


1) Write an 800- to 1000-word op-ed for a local paper that advances an original, focused argument about that particular social, political, or environmental issue facing the community.




2) Write an 850- to 1050-word persuasive letter to a public official convincing him/her/them to take action on your issue.


Learning Objectives

By the end of this unit you should be able to do the following:

  • Identify and appropriately utilize Aristotelian appeals
  • Recognize and understand common logical fallacies
  • Identify premises and conclusions in arguments
  • Understand the differences in tone and evidence when writing the same argument for a broad public audience in the op-ed genre and for a very specific audience in a persuasive letter.


Things to Think About

– For the assignment, you can either A) argue for a particular course of action or stance on the issue, or B) if this is an issue that is not at the forefront of mainstream debate, make an argument about why this issue is worthy of concern and attention.


– While the core of your argument will remain the same whether you choose to write an op-ed or a letter, the style, structure, types of evidence, and types of sub-arguments will likely differ significantly. Because an op-ed is a concise argument made to the general public readership of a newspaper, you must carefully consider how you present your argument in order to reach the broadest possible audience. On the other hand, a letter to a politician will be more specifically targeted. You will want to think about what that politician’s platform is, what his or her voting record is, and what that politician might gain with respect to agreeing with your letter.


-Your argument must be original. While you will use outside sources to bolster your claims, you should not rehash arguments already being made. If you can’t think of something new to say, find a different topic.


Finding Your Topic

– Look at the city’s local paper.

-Seek out alternative newspapers and sites: for instance, for Los Angeles, see LA Weekly, Curbed LA, LA Observed (on KCRW), Which Way, L.A.?; Voice Media Group publishes respected weekly papers in several major cities.

– Go to the community’s city council page. Examine recent minutes from meetings.

-Look at the mayor’s official website.

– Find out when the last local election was, who and what was on the ballot, and what voters decided.

– Go to the city’s local NPR website and access any podcasts having to do with local events or news.


Due Dates

Due dates for AWAs, rough draft, conferences, and final draft are highlighted on the A3 tentative schedule, on Blackboard.

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