People Power From Within the System

From Women's Empowerment collection, lesson plan 4 of 8

(90-120 minutes + assignments)

Grade level: 9-12, College

Subject Areas: Social Studies, Civics, Government, Geography, Global Studies, Sociology, Political Science, Language Arts, Economics, World History

Purpose of the lesson: Feminist theorist and activist Audre Lorde wrote, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” This metaphor characterizes a dilemma that students will investigate in this lesson: whether or not community organizers should work within the system or outside of the system to bring about social change. Students will hear from people on both sides of this question, and then view how these ideas play out with individuals in the women worker’s movement and in the landmark presidential election in Bolivia. As a culminating assignment, students will take sides and debate the issue with their classmates.


Students will:

  • Consider policies on their school campus and what it would take to change or impact those policies
  • Examine views and voices on the issue of working within the system versus outside of the system
  • Investigate the players involved in the women workers’ rights movement who hoped to benefit from the presidential election in Bolivia in 2005
  • Prepare and present a debate with their classmates


Stating and supporting opinions in class discussions and in writing; analytical reading and viewing; note taking; interpreting information and drawing conclusions; critical thinking; identifying cause and effect; identifying relationships and patterns; creating various forms of media


  • Computers with Internet access and/or with DVD capability
  • LCD projector or DVD player
  • Whiteboard/markers, or chalkboard/chalk
  • Waiting for the Revolution Discussion Guide
  • Waiting for the Revolution “PLANE’s Fight for Workers’ Rights” Film Module
  • Teacher Handout A: Organizing Strategies
  • Student Handout B: Waiting for the Revolution Quotes
  • Student Handout C: “PLANE’s Fight for Workers’ Rights” Note Taking Guide
  • Student Handout D: Debate Roles & Format
  • Student Handout E: Debate Notes
  • Student Handout F: Debate Peer Evaluation Rubric


Direct students in the audience to assess their classmates in the debate groups using Student Handout F: Debate Peer Evaluation Rubric. You can also use the same rubric to do a teacher evaluation of the debate groups.

National Teaching Standards Addressed:

Grades 9-12

National standards from the following organizations were used in developing this lesson plan. See Recommended National Standards for full descriptions of standards employed.

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel)

Center for Civic Education

National Council for the Social Studies

National Center for History in the Schools

National Geographic

National Council for Teachers of English/International Reading Association

North American Association for Environmental Education

Writer: David Maduli

David Maduli is an independent educational consultant who has contributed many curriculum guides and conducted various workshops for PBS programs. He has a master’s in teaching and curriculum from Harvard Graduate School of Education and continues to work as a veteran Bay Area public school language arts and social studies teacher.

Previewing Activity

  1. Influencing Policy: Have students brainstorm a list of school administrative policies that they feel strongly about. On the board, record the ideas into three categories of policies they feel should be:

    A) introduced B) changed C) abolished

    Vote by a show of hands to choose one policy in each category to look into more deeply. For each of those policies, discuss:

    • Who is/would be responsible for setting this policy?
    • When/where/how could students organize to voice mass concerns over the policy?
    • Are there structures already within the system that could give students a voice regarding that policy (e.g. faculty/admin advocates or student government)? Who might be the people representing the students’ concern to the administration?
  2. On Working Within the System: Have students read “Working Within the System vs. Revolutionary Change” from the website providing commentary on the words and ideas of community organizing pioneer Saul Alinsky . Note that Alinsky discusses the role of working within the system, despite the fact that he is most commonly associated with working outside of it. He also explores the fact that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive, as well as the pitfalls and tendencies of revolutionary forces to become engaged in a “process of corruption.” Discuss this article with the class:

    • Why is Alinksy in favor of working within the system?
    • What strategies does he favor for creating mass change?
    • Do you agree or disagree with his view of history: that every revolution eventually becomes compromised by becoming part of the establishment structure?
    • Do you agree or disagree with his statement (paraphrasing Dostoevsky) that, “taking a new step is what people fear most?”
  3. On Working Outside the System: Introduce Dolores Huerta, a pioneering union organizer for farm workers (a short biography is located here. Have students read “A Lifetime Fighting For Farmworkers’ Rights: An Interview with Dolores Huerta”. Discuss with the class from

    • What is basic grassroots organizing to Huerta?
    • What strategies does she favor for creating mass change?
    • She stated that “knocking on city hall’s door” is like “asking our enemies for help.” Do you agree or disagree with her view?
    • In what ways does Huerta work outside of the system?
    • How are Alinsky and Huerta’s views similar? How are they different?
    • Which activist do you tend to agree with more? Why?
  4. Provide Background Information on Bolivia and Waiting for the Revolution: Briefly introduce the film Waiting for the Revolution. Note that the film module will cover PLANE, a women workers’ rights program in Bolivia that hoped to benefit from the election of the first indigenous president. The module will look at ways in which the politicians, union leaders and workers further their cause, and how Jiovana Navia made the transition from working as a PLANE supervisor to becoming one of the few women members of the Bolivian parliament. Have students read Waiting for the Revolution Discussion Guide pages 2-5, particularly regarding the individuals featured in the film and the background and timeline of Evo Morales.

    Viewing the Film

  5. Viewing the Film Module: Instruct students to take notes on “PLANE’s Fight for Workers’ Rights” Note Taking Guide as they view the Waiting for the Revolution “PLANE’s Fight for Workers’ Rights” Film Module. Students should observe each individual/player handle the issues of mass social change and worker’s rights and noting the strategies that these players use to further their cause (post and refer to Teacher Handout A: Strategies). After watching, give students time to note whether each of the players targets their efforts within the system, outside of the system, or both.

    Reflecting on the Film

  6. Review and Discuss: Debrief the module and notes by discussing them together as a class. Have students review the Student Handout B: Waiting for the Revolution Quotes before the discussion. Use the following guide questions:

    • Who is working within the system and who is working outside of the system in Bolivia? What are their strategies (post and refer to Teacher Handout A: Strategies)?

    • How do Evo Morales and Jiovana Navia transition from working as outside organizers to entering the halls of government? How do their politics change? How do their strategies change?

    • What struggles/limitations does Morales face? How does he work to overcome those struggles? Who are his opponents? Who are his allies?

    • What struggles/limitations does Navia face? How does she work to overcome those struggles? Who are her opponents? Who are her allies?

    • What are the limitations of PLANE, Esther Encinas and the union organizers?

  7. Debate Preparation: Revisit the first activity, in which the class chose a school policy to introduce, change or abolish. Review what that policy is and explain that groups will debate whether the best approach for bringing about change is to focus on working within the system or working outside of the system. Organize students into groups of 4-6, with groups being either “PRO,” (working within the system) or “CON” (working as an outside organizer). Distribute and review Student Handout D: Debate Roles & Format and have groups decide each member’s role(s). Then direct groups to prepare their arguments and statements using Student Handout E: Debate Notes. They should use examples and quotes from the players in the film module as well as in the Saul Alinsky and Dolores Huerta articles.

  8. Assignment: Debate: Arrange the classroom into a debate-audience format, with two sides facing each other in front of the rest of the class. Review the expectations with the criteria outlined on Student Handout F: Debate Peer Evaluation Rubric. Moderate the debate by following the debate format. Debrief by discussing the persuasiveness of the arguments and whether or not the two approaches to social change are mutually exclusive.

Students can:

  1. Compare and contrast the presidential campaigns of Evo Morales and Barack Obama. Have students read “Interview with key architect of Obama’s ground strategy” from the Social Capital Blog. Note that Valerie Jarrett, a close friend to Obama, outlines Saul Alinsky’s influence on him. At the same time, note Latin American revolutionaries Che Guevara, Tupac Amaru, et al. and their influence on Morales.

  2. Write a postscript of the players in the film, researching what each of them is doing now and what their issues and strategies are. Also evaluate the status of the women worker’s rights movement in Bolivia.

  3. Interview local politicians and grassroots organizers about the most effective ways to make change.

  • Film module:
    Waiting for the Revolution: PLANE’s Fight for Workers’ Rights
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