Our democracy has been shaped by many hands. Find your civic superpowers to turbocharge change.
There are many ways to pitch in when it comes to shaping the future of our nation — from demonstrating to investigating. Ready to find out what strengths you bring to the table? Take the quiz below, then read on to get inspired by figures in the past – and learn how you can take action today.
Look at any movement in U.S. history, and you will see many people, working in many different ways, to make progress. For example, the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956 required many people coming together to stand up for what they believed in. If the arrest of Resister Rosa Parks was the spark that ignited the boycott then the behind-the-scenes organization setup by Builder Jo Ann Robinson was the kindling that kept it burning. Georgia Gilmore organized other Nurturers to cook and sell food at mass meetings, which fed protestors and helped fund the protest. Investigator Inez Baskin provided factual reporting of the boycott through the American Negro Press. Networker E. D. Nixon coordinated many different groups in the community, and help lift up Martin Luther King Jr as a Communicator to inspire protestors and articulate the demands of the boycott.
Like any skill, we can learn new superpowers through practice. Most of us have many, varied skills, and can and do fill multiple roles, and figures in the past are just as multifaceted. Read on to meet influential figures in U.S. history below who might share some of your skills. Schooled-up and ready to skill-up? Find activities and events to take action during the Civic Season.
You are crucial for sustaining the marathon of change. Do people need to be fed? On it. Does someone need cheering on? You’re there. You care for and support those around you. You ensure everyone has what they need to keep building a better future.
Nurturers in History
- Clara Barton (1821–1912) left behind her office work to care for the wounded during the Civil War. She worked on the battlefield, providing supplies and care to the troops. Barton established the American Red Cross in the U.S.
- Fred Rogers (1928–2003) used his degree in music composition, love of puppets, and education as an ordained Presbyterian Minister to create Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. His message of kindness, compassion, and learning has inspired audiences around the world.
- Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865–1915) was the first Native American doctor in U.S. history. She had her work cut out for her: facing racism from her white colleagues and distrust of Western medicine from her fellow Omaha tribal members. But she broke through barriers in order to care for her community.
- Henry Bergh (1813–1888) resigned as the U.S. diplomat to Russia to launch the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). He also succeeded in getting anti-cruelty laws passed and granting ASPCA the power to enforce such laws.
- Jane Addams (1860–1935) co-founded the famous Hull-House in Chicago in 1889. Hull-House provided kindergarten and daycare facilities for the children of working mothers, employment services, citizenship classes, and community support.
Through your contact list and your commitment, you bring people together. You don’t just know the right people — you’re willing to connect the dots. You are open-minded and make unlikely connections. You are outgoing and full of energy.
Networkers in History
- Larry Itliong (1913–1977) immigrated from the Philippines hoping to become an attorney. As a Filipino-American, many barriers kept him from college — so he took his skills and became a labor organizer, leading a movement for workers’ rights all along the West Coast.
- Yuri Kochiyama (1921–2014) worked to build connections and solidarity across racial and generational lines. Kochiyama started her activism while living in Japanese American internment camps during WWII. She supported fights for Civil Rights, Puerto Rican nationalism, and Japanese American redress and reparations.
- Tisquantum (1585–1622), also known as Squanto, was a Patuxet tribal member who was kidnapped, sold into slavery in Spain, escaped to England and finally made his way back to his homeland. He used his English skills to become an interpreter and emissary between the English and Wampanoag Confederacy.
- Edna Fischel Gellhorn (1878–1970) was a suffragist, civic leader, and reformer who dedicated her life to connecting people for a cause. Her work was often intersectional, promoting the rights of Black women within the suffrage movement that did not always welcome them.
- Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was a Renaissance man — printer, writer, inventor, statesman, diplomat, America’s first Post Master General. He helped create many organizations for U.S. intellects and created a positive image of the new country around the globe through his networking and writing.
On the front lines, you keep the movement MOVING. You don’t take no for an answer, and people count on you. You aren’t scared of confrontation or getting in trouble for standing up for what you believe in.
Resisters in History
- Harriet Tubman (1822–1913) was a Conductor on the Underground Railroad, Civil War military leader, suffragist, and advocate for human rights. Tubman escaped slavery as a young woman, and liberated many enslaved people before and during the Civil War.
- Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947) was a skilled political strategist, suffragist and peace activist who helped secure the right to vote for American women. Plus, she helped bring women into the political mainstream!
- Janet McCloud (1934–2003), also known as Yet-Si-Blue, of the Tulalip Tribes was a prominent indigenous rights activist. She was a founding member of the Survival of American Indians Association (SAIA) and staged “fish-ins” protests to reaffirm treaty rights and bring attention to discrimination faced by Native Americans across the nation.
- Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) worked for many reforms, including suffrage, and abolition — but also temperance, education, and labor reform. Anthony is known for demanding to be arrested and put on trial after illegally casting a ballot as a protest for women’s votes.
- Sylvia Rivera (1951–2002) was a transgender woman living in New York City and a fierce defender of LGBTQ+ rights. She founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), establishing the first shelter for LGBTQ+ youth, with Marsha P. Johnson.
You can translate ideas so everyone can understand. You capture the interest of everyone around you. You’re creative, artistic, and use those skills to move progress forward. Your voice matters for making progress.
Communicators in History
- Frederick Douglass (1817–1895) escaped enslavement and became a prominent abolitionist and suffragist. His writing and public speaking helped spread his message — but he also knew a picture was worth a thousand words. One of the most photographed people, his image as a dignified Black man was a tool to combat racial stereotypes.
- Pura Belpré (1899–1982) was NYC’s first Puerto Rican librarian. Belpré was disappointed by the lack of Spanish language children’s books available in the U.S., and wrote her own. Her English translations of Puerto Rican folktales also helped introduce the culture to a wider audience.
- Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993) is best remembered as the first African American Supreme Court Justice. He had a remarkable career before SCOTUS as a lawyer for the NAACP, earning the title of “Mr. Civil Rights” for his diligent work and eloquent legal arguments.
- Harvey Milk (1930–1978) was an LGBTQ+ rights leader and a politician. Milk mobilized union protests and spurred massive voter registration before being elected as San Francisco City Supervisor. Milk was assassinated, but his legacy helped advance human rights.
- Helen Keller became ill and was left blind and deaf as a baby. Deemed nearly hopeless, under the tutelage of Anne Mansfield Sullivan, Keller defied all expectations, learning to communicate. She graduated from college “cum laude” and dedicated her life to disability rights.
You believe in truth above all else. You enjoy research and learning new things. You leave no stone unturned in your quest for answers. You harness science and hard facts as an art. You have no qualms about becoming a whistleblower so others can know.
Investigators in History
- Ida B Wells (1862–1931) lost three friends to lynching in 1892, and decided enough was enough. Her extensive writing about lynching brought the issue international attention, and she helped launch both the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
- Francisco P. Ramirez (1837–1908) was a well-known bilingual editor of the Los Angeles Spanish-language newspaper, El Clamor Público. Ramirez eventually left journalism to become a lawyer in Los Angeles, all with his self-taught skills, and worked to uncover truth and justice in both careers.
- Rachel Carson (1907–1964) was a biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) when she wrote Silent Spring. The book highlighted the dangers of chemical pollution — and helped spur the U.S. environmental movement.
- Upton Sinclair (1878–1968) was a proud “muckraking” journalist and novelist, who made it his mission to expose unfair labor practices and discriminatory politics. Books like The Jungle exposed unsanitary practices and health violations and led to food safety reforms.
- Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) was one of the most impactful photographers of the 20th century. Her work recording the human experience, from the Dust Bowl to Japanese-American incarceration, helped prompt changes in social attitudes and policy towards marginalized groups.
Where others see problems, you see opportunities. You bring your practical knowledge to the table, to help create what is needed — whether that is constructing community gardens or implementing new SYSTEMS. You’re as likely to use textbooks as YouTube to find ways to make the world a better place.
Builders in History
- Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983), a self-proclaimed ‘comprehensive anticipatory design scientist,’ dedicated his life to making the world work for all of humanity with design. Fuller’s work addressed issues of housing, transportation, environmental degradation, and more.
- Jane Jacobs (1916–2006) had no formal training in planning or architecture, but her theories continue to shape our cities. She educated herself about urban planning and advocated for a long-term, bottom-up approach to ensure our cities were shaped by the people living in them.
- Ed Roberts (1939–1995), a post-polio quadriplegic, was a disability rights activist and barrier breaker. He established disabled student housing at Berkeley, led a fight for the city to install curb cuts on city sidewalks, and advocated for removing social and physical barriers to allow independent living.
- Frances Perkins (1882–1965) was the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet and became one of the key architects of the New Deal under the Roosevelt Administration. Her work lives on in our unemployment insurance, minimum wage, shorter workweek, regulations on child labor, and worker’s safety.
- Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales (1928–2005) studied engineering, but was unable to pay for school. Corky instead used his skills to build social and cultural organizations — like Ballet Chicano de Atlan, El Teatro Pachuco and the Escuela Tlatelolco school for Chicano children.