Between December 2019 and January 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.
Rachel Miller (00:00): My name is Rachel Miller. I moved to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1994 from Ramstein, Germany. I grew up as an Air Force brat, and so, the whole concept of voting was very different for me. Because when you live abroad, you send in your ballot. And so, when I moved to Arkansas, Bill Clinton was the president. And when it came time for me to vote, I was working at a cafe that used to be in Hillcrest. It was called Cafe D'Roma. And it was a cafe that was frequented by the Clintons, because Mr. Bill Clinton's mother lived up the street. And this was kind of close around the time of the impeachment trials and whatnot. And so, there was a lot of different perspective on if Clinton was a good president or not. And I remember, it was a Sunday morning, and Sunday morning brunch was usually pretty slow.
(01:01): And this person came in really quickly, really hurried, and was wearing his suit and started putting these name reservation signs on all these tables. And we kind of approached this person, like "Hey, we don't reserve tables here." And they wouldn't tell us what's going on. And the next thing we know, this motorcade shows up. And his Clinton and his entourage with his mother, and they took over the entire cafe.
(01:27): And there were already customers there. And the customers left, because the Secret Service were all over the place. And they were behind the bar. I was a barista, and I had somebody watching me make Clinton's chocolate hot chocolate. And there was Secret Service in the kitchen. And afterwards, one of his aides walked up to all the kitchen staff and was like, "Hey, thanks for hosting us. This is kind of a last minute thing.
(01:56): Would you like to take a picture with the president?" Well, I was a little put off by the fact that we were all just everyday people working hard on a Sunday morning, and we were kind of put in the throes of this sort of big celebrity show up. And so, there's a picture of me with Bill Clinton and the rest of the staff, and I have the most horrible look on my face. Because I was just upset that this person totally interrupted my morning.
(02:23): And I remember, afterwards, the aide walked up to me with President Clinton and said, "would you like to shake his hand?" And I said, "no." And I know that I remember telling that to somebody, and people were like, "how could you do that to the president?" And my perspective was I felt that we are everyday people that are voting for this person. And why is it that we had to be treated any different than anybody else? And so, the next time I went to vote, it was Bush and Gore, and that was my first time voting in the United States.
(02:57): And I remember, well, it was at a community center, and going with three of my really good friends. And it was sort of like this social outing. There were so many people there. The line was around the block, and we waited for probably two hours to get through the polling to actually be able to cast our vote. And I had on a Nader pin, and I remember people coming up to me saying, "don't waste your vote. You're wasting your vote." And my response was like, "Well, it's my vote, and I can cast it for whoever I want." And that was an experience that really just continued to stick out in my brain, is that, here I am with all these people and talking to so many people from different backgrounds, standing in line for two hours and then, having people actually tell me how I should use my vote. Yes, I continue to vote every opportunity I get, whether it's national, state, or community, because that is my vote and I can use it whatever way I want to.
(03:56): And for someone to tell me how to use my vote, I think that is dictating how a person, a citizen of our nation, is able to change how our community engages with each other, how we're able to change policy, and how we're able to change social situations and address social issues. So yeah, I vote every opportunity that I get. I remember when Obama was running for president and just how excited people were. And I remember how many young people had volunteered to campaign for Obama. And I remember there being this group of campaigners that came from out of state and how they were walking downtown and talking to people and approaching people they didn't know and just the energy.
(04:48): And I was like, "this, everybody should be a part of this. Even if you didn't vote for Obama, this whole energy, this whole community coming together for the whole principle of being able to stand up as a citizen and say, "this is what I believe in. This is what I expect of my president. This is what I expect of my nation. And as a citizen, it is my right to be able to contribute to that.""
Asset ID: 22023.02.13.a-b
Themes: Storytelling, Bill Clinton, Celebrity, Presidential Elections, 2000, Voting, Ralph Nadir, Barack Obama
Date recorded: December 4, 2019
Length of recording: 0:05:12
Related traveling exhibition: Voices and Votes: Democracy in America
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Arkansas Humanities Council, Little Rock
More information or related assets: https://arkansashumanitiescouncil.org/voices-votes-democracy-in-america/