The Campus Vote Project and the Fair Elections Legal Network teams visited the “American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith” exhibit, a new addition to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and we were all moved. The exhibit chronicles America’s transition from being under the rule of England to becoming an independent, democratic country, and showcases materials from various aspects of voting and elections, such as ballots, canvassing, and protests for the right to vote. There was also an interactive station asking visitors to select from a list of criteria concerning who should be able to vote and run for office. All citizens should be invested in and have access to voting and elections because our vote is our voice; it allows us to actively participate in the democratic process that shapes our country. The Smithsonian exhibit showed how our democracy has changed over the years and highlighted some of the struggles that got us to where we are today. Here are a few of the team’s thoughts.
- “There were little screens playing ads from back in the early days of TV that extended up onto the ceiling and into a “cloud” of noise and images with tons of different ads playing on so many more little screens. I thought it was a good visual representation of how “noisy” and crowded our political discourse is in the space of television advertisements.” -Jacob Conrack, FELN legal intern
- “The exhibit reminded me, though, that even the toughest barriers to voting rights are not insurmountable. If we keep fighting, we might one day actually land this Great Leap of Faith.” -Fahad Khan, FELN legal intern
- “I was struck by the voting machines of yesteryear. Say what you will about their speed and efficiency, but they were accurate and you could review the results. Voters are always reporting glitches with electronic voting machines and now with the cyberattacks on our election systems, if voters don’t have a receipt they can verify, they will lose trust in the system.” -Jon Sherman, FELN Senior Counsel
- “The exhibit is a good reminder for everyone that not only is voting a fundamental right so many had to fight for over the years, it is also a way for everyone to participate in society. Given the current climate around voting rights, that reminder is essential now more than ever.” -Kelsey Vickery, FELN legal intern
- “The thing that stuck out the most to me were the artifacts from the past, like Thomas Jefferson’s desk and the original Uncle Sam suit. The fight for democracy seems so long ago but it was actually very recent in human history and seeing those historical artifacts made it seem more real and tangible.” -Ta’Lisa Turner-Pitts, CVP intern
- “The American Democracy exhibit showed how far we have come in our 241 years, but highlighted the recent and current struggles that prove our democracy is still a work in progress. As someone who also worked on campaigns, it was interesting to see some of the ways campaigns in the 1800s and 1900s mobilized voters compared to how we do it today.” – Kristen Muthig, Communications Manager
This Smithsonian exhibit helped visitors understand the system that our country was built on and how this system is beneficial to American citizens. It is also a good reminder that democracy and our right to vote did not come easy; it did not come easy for our founding fathers and it did not come easy for the many groups who had to protest for that fundamental right.