In early 2020 (just weeks before the pandemic), Smithsonian staff and their storytelling partners at the Peale, Baltimore, traveled to multiple states in the U.S. to ask residents of those states about voting experiences, the current state of American democracy, what issues brought them to the polls, how they made a difference in their communities, and what Americans' civic responsibilities were, among other complex questions.
Dr. Tamika Lamb-Sanders (00:00): The day after the election with Trump and Hillary, I was working, doing a program in schools. And it's a population of schools, a lot of Hispanic and Latino and African-American children, as well. And a lot of them, literally, I had teachers and students crying the next day at school. A lot of teachers called out, and they literally would look at me, and we were doing a storytelling and poetry after-school session, and they were just like, 'Ms. Sanders, what do we do? How do we go on? It didn't matter, everything that we said.' They're like, 'I don't want to live in an America like this. I never thought someone that said so many horrible things about people would be elected. I just thought, 'That's not what you do as a president, right? That's not what you do, and I thought people would be smart enough not to choose him.'
(00:53): And because I felt the same way, it was really heartbreaking, and literally, I have a lot of students now. Now that 2020 is gearing up, because of that disappointment and that pain, there's a lot of people right now that are thinking, 'I don't want to vote, and look what happened. We voted. We did everything, and look what happened.' But then I also have to tell them on the other side. I say, 'Hey, the popular vote was won by the people. She won. The Electoral College, that's a whole ‘nother topic; it was won by him.' I said, 'So that popular vote, it mattered, and had all of those people not gone to vote, guess what? Who knows how that would have ended up? It could have ended up even worse. That popular vote wouldn't have even been there.'
(01:38): So, it does matter. Yes, the popular vote didn't elect the president, but it was letting you know where people stood, and so when history goes down, and they say, 'How did the country feel about this?' Well, actually, the majority of the people, the popular vote, that's how they felt.
(01:53): Now, what I have to do with the students is keep them engaged, and I'm like, 'Hey, we lost this one, but there's so many other important elections and things you can do right now, in your city, that you can do, that aren't settled and that you can make a difference, still.' And so, I got them involved in those. At some of some of their schools, they have recycling, and they have environmental things. They have alternative fuel things. They have Red for Ed, for the teachers, and looking at books. And so I got them into those things and say, 'Yeah, we can't change that for another four more years, but here's some stuff you can change right now that's going to affect you. You're going to see those changes within the six months or the couple months.'
(02:37): And that's how I have to keep myself excited, because it hurts when things don't go the way you think they should. It does make you feel like, ‘What kind of America do we live in, when you feel like it doesn't matter, and you don't matter, and all the efforts of others?’ But you then have to turn your mind to, ‘I can't fix that, but what can I change?’
Asset ID: 2022.34.06.e-f
Themes: Voting, Democracy, President, Elections, Electoral College, 2016, Hope, Resilience, Students, Education, Disillusionment
Date recorded: January 25, 2020
Length of recording: 0:02:55
Related traveling exhibition: Voices and Votes: Democracy in America
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Arizona Humanities
More information or related assets: https://azhumanities.org/smithsonian-exhibition-voices-and-votes-democracy-in-america/