We the People MN is a collection of individuals who came together out of a commitment to building a pluralistic, multicultural, just, and equitable society by understanding, engaging, and influencing the Constitutional as a living document at work in community life. The information here is based on a series of community self-organized conversations held between November 2016 and April 2017 in Minneapolis where neighbors educated themselves about the Constitution.
These notes and resources are meant to help others engage the Constitution as a resource in community conversations and civic dialogue. It is important to note that We the People is not a program to be replicated exactly as it looked in its first iteration. Instead, it is an approach that others can adapt to address any of a range of issues of concern in their own contexts, engaging local voices and knowledge on local issues. For instance, if a community is concerned about issues of data privacy, felon voting rights, or free speech on a college campus, a We the People community conversation would be one way to approach that topic. Organizers could draw ideas from this guide, and would also need to engage those knowledgeable about and impacted by the issues in their own context.
We the People Community Conversations
The 2016-17, We the People organizers arranged ten two-hour sessions on the seven articles of the Constitution and select amendments. Up to two hundred neighbors, largely adults of all ages, participated in each session. The conversations took place in a large room at a community location where participants could sit in small groups while also seeing a speaker.
Neighbors were motivated to convene by a general sense that they didn’t know the Constitution as well as they wanted to. Many expressed concerned about the wellbeing of their communities and democracy. They knew that the Constitution and interpretations of it heavily influenced the issues they cared about. Many wanted to better understand the specifics of that relationship and know what they could do address issues they cared about. While some attended all ten sessions, there were others who were concerned about specific issues and attended only sessions on those topics. The model allowed for either mode of participation.
The ten sessions had an arc, beginning with a community reading of the Constitution, followed by sessions about the seven articles, select amendments, and finally culminated in a “take action” session in which participants accessed information about community organizations working on issues they cared about. The model could also be used a la carte for a single session or shorter series addressing a specific question or issue(s).
The organizers, members of the community, chose the topics and amendments for the ten sessions based an initial grassroots group gathering and responding to the following prompt: “What are three things you want to know more about in regard to the Constitution?” A long list resulted, and by clumping questions by theme, the group arrived at ten session topics.