How Citizens Participate in Massachusetts's Government

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we'll explore how Massachusetts citizens can participate in government. We'll discuss several options for those not yet old enough to vote, how citizens can petition for a change in the law, and some requirement to run for office.


The state of Massachusetts has a long history of citizens involving themselves with politics and government. From the Boston Tea Party to current events, the people take pride in their history of standing up for what they believe in and working to make a difference in the world around them.

If you're looking into how citizens can participate in Massachusetts, you're either a resident ready to get involved, someone moving to the state, or learning about civics so you can be involved when you are older. Let's take a look at a number of ways you can participate in government throughout the state, some of which you can do even if you are not old enough to vote.

Participation Before Voting Age

Even those of you who are too young yet to vote can still play an active role in your local and state government decisions. These activities will also help you become better informed when you are allowed to vote. People who are of voting age but want to do more can also try these activities.

Campaigning and Encouraging Voter Registration

Campaigning involves volunteering with a candidate's run for office, whether that is for a U.S. Senator or your town's mayor. There are many ways to do this. You could wear a pin or a button, slap a sticker on your car or put a sign in your yard if you don't have much free time.

You can also give time going door-to-door informing people about the candidate, their stance on the issues, and encouraging people to register to vote. That last one is of major importance, because not enough people in this country register to exercise that right. You can also donate to a campaign if you have a few dollars to spare.

Informing Yourself and Others

This part is crucial to future involvement. You need to understand how government works, current issues your local and state government are working with, and the different political opinions of candidates and current officials. Once you have this information, you can engage others in discussions based on facts and create a better-informed populace.

Speak Out

Even before you can vote, you can let your elected officials know how you feel about particular issues and proposed laws. You can write letters to your public officials or even meet with them. When letter writing doesn't work, people might also participate in a protest. Most protests are peaceful demonstrations of support for or opposition to a new law or a current practice.

Protests and marches show solidarity among people regarding an issue.

Town Meetings

Massachusetts also has a tradition of getting citizens involved at town meetings. While larger communities might go with a city council because of their size, any community with fewer than 12,000 people has to use a town meeting system. Open town meetings allow all voters in the community to attend and vote on particular issues. Representative town meetings have citizens vote for representatives to speak for the community at town meetings.

Town meetings can include all eligible residence voting or include representatives to speak for the people.
Town Meeting

Petitions for Change

Citizens of Massachusetts have every right to challenge state laws or encourage new regulations. This is done through voting on issues placed on the ballot for election day. To get your issue on the ballot, you have to create a petition and have the required number of people sign it before a certain date. Remember, petitions only get the issue put on the ballot, they do not change the laws themselves.

Types of Petitions

In Massachusetts, the government recognizes four types of petitions, but we'll explore only the three that change laws. The first is an initiative petition for a law, which proposes a new law for citizens to vote for or against. The second is an initiative petition for a constitution amendment, which asks to change or add to the state constitution. Finally, we have a referendum petition asking to repeal an existing law, usually a recently created law.

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