Activity: How to understand—and read—power

An activity from Citizen University for Civic Season.


Every day, we move and operate within systems of power that other people have constructed. But we’re often uncomfortable talking about power. Why is that?


Power is like a language: the better we can understand, interpret, and “read” how power works, the better mastery we achieve. If we think of it this way, “fluency” in power helps us better plug into the power structure ourselves so we can work towards making our society “of, by, and for the people.”

In this seven-minute video, Eric Liu describes the six sources of power and explains how understanding them is key to being an effective citizen.


Watch this short video on how to understand power, and then reflect on the questions below.

What is power Youtube Video

Discussion Questions

1. Who has power in your community? Who is making the decisions that shape your life locally?

2. How powerful do you feel—and how capable do you feel of helping to improve your community and create change?

3. What lessons from the “three laws of power” are useful in reflecting on the power dynamics that are present in our society based on race, class, language, gender, age, and other identities?