As the Fourth of July approaches with flags, parades and fireworks, it's a good time to reflect on our rights and responsibilities not only as American citizens, but also as citizens of Somervell County and Glen Rose.

All too often the holiday's meaning gets lost in the festivities. But a new book, The Handbook for Americans released by Hatherleigh Press, provides a valuable reference for understanding the United States and a reminder that citizens must participate in shaping their futures.

The handbook calls for Americans to “participate fully and without delay” and offers 11 simple ways you can play an active role in building what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called “a greater, a more stable and a more tolerant America.”  I'm not going to cover all of them here, but several deserve attention.

The first item on the list is to vote. I wrote a column after the May election in which I expressed surprise and dismay that more people did not cast ballots for city council seats (see the Letter to the Editor on this page about that). All too often, people get discouraged that their voices don't count and they don't vote. And because they don't vote, their voices don't get heard.

The second way to be a good citizen is to stay informed. We try to help you in that regard by publishing news that affects your lives. Glen Rose's famously high-speed grapevine also speeds information – and often rumors, too – around the community. Going online and reading the agendas of local governing entities and attending meetings when something interests you is another way to become an informed and empowered citizen.

Exercising your right to free speech “lives up to the hopes and dreams of the Founding Fathers,” as the handbook aptly puts it. At the Reporter, we publish letters to the editors and opinion pieces reflecting a variety of political views. Until recently, I was a bit alarmed that I didn't see more citizens attending public meetings and voicing their opinions. That's beginning to change and that's a good thing when people start participating in the process and not remaining silent.

Support American and local businesses. Buying products made in the United States helps the national economy, and buying local as much as possible helps all of us. Many local businesses are struggling right now and need our dollars.

Donating time, services or money to those less fortunate distinguishes Somervell County and Glen Rose. There are lots of nonprofits and service organizations that do so much good for the community.  Use your time meaningfully.

Protecting our natural resources is another way to be a good citizen. That's an issue that's become very important to Somervell County in recent years as Chalk Mountain has become a target for a rock-crushing operation and a potential route for high-voltage transmission lines. Citizens who live on Chalk Mountain have had to become activists to fight these proposed projects. But Chalk Mountain is a resource for all of us. It is a landmark and a part of this area's very soul. To stand by and let it be destroyed would be a sad, terrible waste.

Above all else, believe not only in America, but also in our community. As the book points out, “the ultimate success of our democracy rests upon the individual citizens who make up this great nation.” And this great community.

Happy Fourth of July!