Government, Rights, and Power

Objectives

  • To grasp the importance and power of government
  • To learn about rights protected under the US Constitution and Bill of Rights
  • To think critically about the significance of rights and their absence

Materials

  • Copies of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights
  • Paper
  • Pens or pencils

Prepare Before

Prepare historical examples of governments to share if participants struggle during the Warm Up.


Warm Up

Ask participants to generate historical examples of dictatorships, oligarchies, democracies, and republics. What are the differences and similarities between these forms of government? What does power mean? Discuss power and the importance of individual people (especially in the face of how much government does) in the different forms of government. How much power do the participants feel they have in their local, state, or federal government?

Experience

Challenge small groups to use the Constitution and Bill of Rights as the source of information for creating a graphic organizer showing the breakdown of powers in the national government; they should include citizens and state governments in the graphic organizer. Lead discussion of how amendments give citizens the ability to control their lives and affect their government.

Reflect

Set up an exercise in which the full group is “The People” and two participants are “The Government.” The People start out with the full protection of the Bill of Rights (you may want to include the extended Bill of Rights – Amendments 13, 14, and 15 – as well as amendments that broadened voting rights). Every five minutes, The People lose one amendment. Before each loss of rights, participants discuss what to do and conduct a blind ballot. As rights are lost, The Government can enact restrictions that reflect the loss of rights; for instance, if the people give up the right to assembly, they can be scattered. If they give up the right to free speech, they can be told what to say. If they give up protection from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” people can be arrested and removed from the game.

Summarize

Discuss what just happened and why. What did the government do? What is the importance of rights?

Demonstrate

Give participants 15 minutes to write on one of the following prompts:

  • To what extent is your life affected by government? How do you feel about that level of influence?
  • What right is most important to you? Why?
  • What local government issues have been in the news lately? How do they help you understand the power of local government?

Offer participants the chance to share what they wrote if they feel comfortable.