When we started this project three months ago, we had no idea how many of you were looking to get your civic muscles in shape. Your support and your word-of-mouth recommendations have helped us grow from a couple of hundred subscribers in our earliest days to almost 10,000 subscribers today. Thank you. We’ve also noticed that many of you are new here. Welcome! Just for you, we are doing a quick review of US Government 101, and your role as a civic activist.
Does it ever seem to you like Congress can’t get anything done? Or that the Supreme Court moves slowly? One reason for that is that the system is designed to move slowly, to keep any one branch of the government from taking too much power for itself. Learn about how the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government provide checks on each other and balance each other out with this overview. (No, it’s not “I’m Just a Bill.”)
The US is a representative democracy, which means that we don’t personally vote on every single issue and potential law. Instead, we elect representatives to do our voting for us. Here’s who represents you.
At the national level, these elected officials pass laws that are signed into law by the president:
Every state has two US Senators. Both of them represent every single citizen in that state.
Every state has at least one representative in the House of Representatives. Most states have many (California, the largest state, has 53). Each representative represents a district that makes up part or all of the state.
At the state level, these elected officials pass laws that are signed into law by the governor:
Every state has a state-level legislature modeled off Congress: it is bicameral, meaning it has two different parts to which officials are elected separately. (The exception is Nebraska, which is unicameral--it has just one part). You have one senator in your state senate and at least one representative in your state house of representatives (this might also be named the state assembly or house of delegates, depending on where you live, and some states give you more than one representative).
For today’s 10-minute workout, use the elected officials link at the USA.gov website to find your national and state representatives. Go to each of their websites. Subscribe to their newsletters and put one phone number for each of them in your phone. What, you don’t want to subscribe to the newsletter of a Republican? Trust us, do it. It’s a great way to find out when they’re holding in-person events, like town hall meetings, where you can show up and tell them about their job performance.
Remember the most memorable moment of Democratic convention this past summer? Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim American soldier who was killed in Iraq, challenged the future president on his proposed policies towards Muslims. “Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.” Khan took his pocket constitution out and continued, “In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law’.”
Under the Trump administration, as liberty and the equal protection of law come under fire, it’s a good time to make sure you’re up to speed on your constitutional protections. Read the U.S. Constitution straight through, then brag that you did us by tagging us at @mycivicworkout.
Civics education is for everyone, adults and kids alike. Read Kristina Rizga’s piece in Mother Jones about the value of civics education in schools:
In 2011, all federal funding for civics and social studies was eliminated. Some state and local funding dropped, too, forcing many cash-strapped districts to prioritize math and English—the subjects most prominently featured in standardized tests. A study by George Washington University's Center on Education Policy found that between 2001 and 2007, 36 percent of districts decreased elementary classroom time spent on social studies, including civics—a drop that most affected underfunded schools serving working-class, poor, rural, and inner-city kids.