Suggested Questions & Activities
- Ask students how they would define "Populism" and ask them how they imagine the "common good." (One definition of many is that Populism refers to a social or grassroots movement of common people—farmers, workers, etc—who organize in order to achieve a shared goal of social equality and see that inequality of wealth and power is a barrier to their goal.)
- Generate a lively discussion of today's leaders, heroes and heroines. Find out who the students recognize as individuals or groups they think are participating actively in creating space for more people to experience a better life. Emphasize that such groups or individuals are always recognized for their active engagement—bringing a vision of a better world into action toward the greater good for everyone. (some examples of individuals who have used a great deal of vision, imagination, activism (and money) to contribute might be NBA's illustrious Magic Johnson, who has created a non-profit organization for promoting health, social, and educational well-being for urban youth or major league all star pitcher Jamie Moyer, who has devoted his huge financial resources to creating a foundation to serve the needs of children in severe distress—suffering from life threatening illnesses or physical limitations, children coping with the loss of loved ones, and children who are victims of abuse and neglect).
- Ask students how many of them are familiar with the history of civil liberties in America including the readings in this packet and frame a discussion about what groups have been extended their full civil liberties and what groups are still struggling for them. The main point of these documents is that democracy is always changing and that flexible fertile minds, hearts and imaginations with plenty of commitment and courage are required to keep a democracy healthy and responsive to the needs of the people.
- Choose one or two of the quotes and discuss. Focus on Populism as part of the profound ideas that came from "the bottom up" from the will of the people—that when the constitution was formed, it was indeed a populist document that came about because ordinary people did not want to give up their self governance, and yet their magnificent vision was also extremely limited because it did not extend equal rights, for instance slavery was upheld and women were not allowed to vote.
Suggestions for In-class Writing Activities
Ask students to work in groups of four and give them one of the following writing assignments:
- You are a group of speech writers creating a speech for one of the presidential candidates. He is preparing to present a speech to a large and diverse audience of the newest voters in America, those who have turned 18 since the last presidential election in 2004. Create an outline for a speech which will inspire young people to vote for your candidate because you have been able to address at least five of their main issues and concerns AND outline a proposal for how your candidate plans to integrate young people into his new programs for activism, community service and participatory democracy. As you list the main points of the speech, call upon your spirit of populism and the creativity and vision of each of your group members. (Examples of issues concerning youth might be economic empowerment, reproductive rights, affordable college tuition, good jobs for fair pay, the climate change crisis, the security of counting on a peaceful future, the dream of a better country and world.)
- Working individually or with a partner, create your own DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE Or BILL OF RIGHTS. Be sure to address at least three issues that are at stake in the upcoming Presidential election as you create your new document. Keep in mind what things you think the greatest number of common people need for a better life as you write your new Declaration or Bill of Rights.
- Individually, respond in writing to the quote by Jim Hightower and write about what you think America needs you to stand up for right now at this historic moment of a Presidential election in which for the first time an African American and a woman are candidates for the highest and the second highest office in the land.