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Explain how American citizens were expected to participate in, monitor, and bring about changes in their government over time, and give examples of how they continue to do so today.

National American Women Suffrage Association, WashingtonDC, March 1913
National American Women Suffrage Association, WashingtonDC, March 1913

Citizens can participate in changes in government by participating in electoral politics, by lobbying their representatives, and by using reporting and activism to hold the government accountable or to influence public opinion,
  • The Constitution guaranteed citizens the ability to participate in electoral politics and to amend the constitution, and the Bill of Right's guaranteed the ability of citizens to petition the government, to create political organizations and to report on the government's actions.

Electing Representatives

Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to elect representatives and creates guidelines for such citizens to become a representative for their state.
  • This guarantees citizens considerable influence over the U.S. government, as representatives are elected every two years, which means they are forced to be responsive to pressures from their constituents.
  • Since the House of Representatives was given responsibility by Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution to be the original source for appropriations bills, taxpayers have the most sway over the lawmaking body responsible for raising revenue (The original Constitution did not provide for the direct election of Senators).
  • As was written in the 52nd Federalist Paper by either James Madison or Alexander Hamilton, it was "particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration [the House of Representatives] should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people."
    • The House of Representatives was designed to bind the will of the government to the will of the people.

Amending the Constitution

Article V of the House of Representatives and the individual states to propose and ratify amendments to the Constitution.
  • This power has been used to increase popular representation in the U.S government, with the 15th and 19th amendments expanding suffrage and the 17th amendment establishing the direct election of senators.

The First Amendment Guarantees

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees citizens the freedom of press and the freedom of speech, which allow for citizens to monitor the government.
    • Prominent examples of the use of the press to provide a direct check on the government include Carl Bernstein's and Bob Woodward's reporting on the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington (Check out the Washington Post's page dedicated to the legacy of this event), but the press can also help enhance citizens voices by reporting on policy proposals, bills and laws, as well as on candidates for public office.
    • This coverage can increase awareness, as well as evaluate the effects of government policy. Nowadays, demand for the monitoring of politicians is so great that organizations, such as Politifact, exist for the sole purpose of monitoring political discussion. C-Span broadcasts sessions of Congress, providing another means for citizens to monitor their government.

  • The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights also guarantees citizens the right "to petition the government for a redress of grievances" and "to peaceably assemble." These rights are important for the formation of political parties, for the legitimacy of lobbying, an important facet of the drafting of all bills that pass through Congress, and for enabling popular protests of government action.
    • The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s is a great example of citizens assembling and petitioning the government.
    • It led to numerous policy changes, including the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights of 1965.
    • Political rallies have been a common form of assembly for citizens intent on bringing about change in government, and contemporary election cycles demonstrate that this continues today.

Right to Assemble

The right to assemble has been used for many social movements that have created change both in the attitudes of Americans and in government policy.
  • The end of the ban on homosexuals in the military and the newfound legality of same sex marriage would likely not be possible without the Gay Liberation Movement, which became prominent in the 1970s, with parades commemorating the Stonewall riots.
  • This movement helped pave the way for the legal fight for civil rights for members of the LGBT community.