Social Policy & Programs Consulting
Training and Services for agencies working toward social and economic justice
Government 101: Take the Plunge
Learn How Your Government Works
June 9, 2015
In the last fifteen years, Americans' anger at government has grown. We've seen griping and grumbling, ranting and raving about government's size and its role in our lives. Civil, healthy debate is valuable, but it's impossible when the participants are uninformed.
Why We Must Know It
Far too many people hold some very peculiar notions about our history, the Constitution, and government functions. Many of those who screeeeech the loudest about cherishing the Constitution have never bothered to read it and are ignorant about its contents. "We the people" can't begin to solve our problems until we understand the governing process. And no, governing itself is not an evil activity.
Successful democracy requires citizen participation in all phases of governing, not just on Election Day. Participation requires an educated public. Unfortunately, The Republicans who control our schools make sure that they produce socially, politically, and economically illiterate citizens.
Corporate lobbyists control the government because they are the only ones doing the talking.
When you know how government works, you can influence Congress, find the text of a bill online, find help with government agencies, obtain documents under the Freedom of Information Act, and evaluate your representatives' work. When you know what's in the Constitution, and what's not, you'll know who's grabbing power, and who's not. Your life, and your children's lives, will improve.
How to Learn It
Recently, I wrote that we need to start teaching civics again. I asked parents to teach their children, but it's a big subject, and perhaps you can use some help.
In the 1990s, Vice President Al Gore led the US delegation to the international conference that developed the user-friendly Internet that we know today. Later, the federal government launched the most extensive public web portal in the world. USA.Gov links to every piece of public information you will ever need from every department and agency of every level and branch of government in the United States – city, state, tribal, and federal. It's a good idea to spend some time browsing around.
First, it's vital to be familiar with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. ConstitutionFacts.com offers those documents, as well as some history, trivia, and even a quiz. You can't understand how your government works until you understand what your Constitution is, and what it isn't. It is not what the teapartiers would have you believe.
The Constitution is not a mysterious, magical manuscript, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible. It outlines the framework of our government. It says we will have a president, a Congress, and courts. It describes the requirements to hold those jobs and each position's powers and duties. It sets the procedure to make changes to itself. And it only takes about an hour to read it, including all 27 amendments. Yet the average score on the site's quiz is only about 50 percent.
The White House website shows all presidential activities, actions, proclamations, executive orders, appointments, issues statements, and everything else that the president is working on. You can email President Obama, get an explanation of Obamacare, and see how much stimulus money your city has received. The "Our Government" tab on the site explains the government's structure. The "Administration" tab links to the Cabinet, Office of Management and Budget, and senior presidential advisors.
The House of Representatives and Senate sites describe their work, leadership, committee structure, and Congressional history. Each links to its members' and committees' sites and contains a search feature to find your representatives. The Library of Congress operates Congress.gov, which includes details about every bill pending before Congress, all laws passed since the 1990s, all treaties, the Congressional Record, vote tallies, the US Code of Federal Regulations, and much more.
USA.Gov's Judicial Branch page links to all federal courts: the US Supreme Court and the Appeals, District, Bankruptcy, and special court sites. You can see the Supreme Court's current docket and read summaries of landmark historical cases.
Although the Constitution doesn't mention political parties, Americans currently gravitate to two major organizations - the Democratic and Republican parties. Read their sites to learn about their platforms, structure, and activities.
Most people have some mistaken notions about the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has only one client - the Bill of Rights. It only takes cases involving Bill of Rights violations, and only by request. They never enter a case unless they're invited. The variety of their casework is fascinating. Don't worry; it won't bite.
I know this is a lot of work, but since you've read this far, take the next step. Take a piece at a time. It's worth it. When you're finished, feel free to take the Community Matters Civics Quiz.
The Next Step
Once you’re familiar with your government, you can lobby for the issues that you care about.
Yes. I said LOBBY.
Members of Congress, the corporate media, and our Republican-controlled schools don't want you to know that Lobbying is the ONLY thing that can restore our democracy. They don’t want you to know that you have the power to influence Congress.
"Giving buckets of money to legislators" is not lobbying.
Lobbying is the act of contacting local, state, and federal officials to discuss the issues that you care about, and trying to convince them to support or oppose legislation and policies reflecting your positions.
Legislators listen to corporate lobbyists
BECAUSE THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES DOING THE TALKING.
Nothing is more important in our government than lobbying.
Learn why we can't do without it, when, where, and how to lobby, and how to contact your local, state, and federal legislators. For FREE
For More Information
Read the Constitution
The White House
US House of Representatives
American Civil Liberties Union
Read Community Matters Articles
Community Matters Civics Quiz
Patricia A. O'Malley
Social Policy & Programs Consulting ~ Community Matters
P.O. Box 97803 ~ Pittsburgh, PA 15227 ~ 412-310-4886 ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright Patricia A. O'Malley ~ All rights reserved