After the 2012 Election: Active Citizenship

Students talk about the 2012 election and President Obama's statement in his acceptance speech that "democracy does not end with our vote." Students then consider the issues that are most important to them, research the issues, and figure out how to take action on them. 

To the teacher:  

In this activity, students talk about the 2012 election and President Obama's statement in his acceptance speech that "democracy does not end with our vote." Students then consider the issues that are most important to them, research the issues, and decide on action steps they can take as citizens to address the issue. If there is time in your class, support students in an ongoing project. 


Election Discussion

Begin by having students share their experiences of election night - or the election in general. Your questions might include:
  • Were students watching or listening to the election returns? 
  • What thoughts and observations do they have about it? 
  • How did they feel about the way the election results were reported? 
  • What do they know about the results of the election - not just for president, but for Congress? How about ballot initiatives?
  • How do they feel about the results? Are they happy? Disappointed? Why?

(For a full election results, see the New York Times.)


Ask students if they heard Obama's acceptance speech - or if they heard or saw clips of it afterwards. If so, what did they take away from the speech?  (See the full transcript, or the video.)
Read to students these sentences from Obama's speech:
"The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote. America's never been about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That's the principle we were founded on."
Ask students:
  • What do you think Obama means by this statement?  Do you agree with it?  
  • Now that Obama has been reelected, do we citizens have a continuing role to play? If so, what is it? 



Active Citizenship

Explain that many of the most important reforms that have happened in the history of the United States have been brought about because of huge, sustained efforts by many people. Through these efforts, people were able to get elected officials to pass important legislation that could not have been passed without those efforts. 
Ask students if they can think of some examples of this in history.  (Examples include: the minimum wage, the 8-hour day, the right of African Americans and women to vote, Social Security for the elderly, and rights for lesbians and gays.) Note that very often people were fighting for changes that most people thought were impossible, and that weren't even on the political agenda. 
Ask: What are the most important issues to you? What are the most important changes you think need to be made in this country now? 
Make a list of issues students bring up, asking clarifying questions if necessary. You might prompt ideas by noting some of the big issues that came up in the campaign (though students should not limit their thinking to these issues). Among them:
  • taxes for the wealthy and middle class
  • immigration reform
  • unemployment and the lack of jobs for people who need them 
  • the war in Afghanistan
  • healthcare 
  • the budget deficit
  • global warming - how to reduce it and how to address the effects of it
  • marriage equality for gays and lesbians
  • election reform and corporate influence over elections

Is there any agreement in the class on the most important issue or issues? Work toward either a class consensus or have students choose two or three issues. 

For the chosen  issue or issues, ask students:

  • What do we know about this issue?
  • What do we think should be done or changed?
  • What do we need to find out about this issue if we are going to figure out how to address it?

Work with students to create a list of questions that need answering. Assign students to research these questions for homework. Questions might be about both the issue itself, and the range of proposals for addressing it. 

In the following day's class, have students share the information they have learned, and prompt them to do further research if necessary - including perhaps research to get a broader list of policy options.

Then work with students to come up with immediate action steps. If there is time, support students in an ongoing active citizenship project.