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.
Ryk St. Vincent (00:00): The whole thing that we have right now in terms of the democratic process and all that, for the most part, when I talk to people and I talk to people all the time, I would rather talk to somebody than to do a lot of other things. When I go over here to the bakery where I have coffee, I can talk to 20 people in a day and be engaged in a long, long conversation with those 20 people over a course of a day about whatever the subject is. I'm that kind of guy who, I like getting that kind of information because it feeds my mind for creativity. So we have adults who came from children and somewhere along the line that child didn't get what they needed to become a fruitful, giving, caring, engaged adult in whatever capacity. Whether you're talking about voting, supporting their wife or their husband, being engaged in their own family or whatever. We're missing the boat. The human animal is the only animal that has a problem with its child. We're the only one. We're the only one.
(01:16): And we've got a situation right now where we're talking about voting, we're talking about what the President is doing, and we're talking about all these other things going on. And we should be trying to get to the quintessential question of how do we make better adults? You follow me? How do you make a better adult? Here's my philosophy. I believe that everybody on the planet, 7 billion people, I believe every last one of them is absolutely right about what they believe. They are absolutely right about what they believe. And when I run into that person, whoever they may be, my job is to get along with them. I don't care what religion, I don't care how tall they are, whether they have one or three legs, whether they are black or white, rich or poor, what color, doesn't matter. My job is to assume they are absolutely right about what they believe.
(02:17): Now we are in a small area, sitting table length apart, and I've got to get along with that person. I've got to get along with that person. And when that person leaves, the next time they see me, I want them to say, "Oh, here comes that guy." I want them to want to be in my space. What do I have to do to do that? What do I have to do to do that? I can't just do it then. I've got to be that way from the ... You can't paint your house today, Mr. Brown. It hadn't been painted in 40 years. You can't paint the whole house today. You should have been painting it a little bit at a time in the spring and the fall. Little bit here, a little bit there. You can't fix your car all at once. It's going to be expensive. You need to have maintenance on it all the time.
(03:15): Jimmy, your room needs to be cleaned up and it's going to be nine hours. You probably won't make it today. But if you had picked those socks up and put those things away and straighten that out, you'd be five minutes from getting your room straight whenever. So we need to get into that. We need to get into that. And it's got to do with this is the only planet that we know human beings can exist. So who are you or you or anybody else to say, I don't belong here. Where else do I belong? Point to the place where I belong, Point to the place where I belong. Here's a question I've been asking people for the last three years. I look them straight in the eye. I'm going to look right at this camera. I look them straight in the eye and I say, "Do you really want the entire world to be just like you?"
(04:19): All the time, people will be hit by that question as if you popped them in the head with your knuckle and woke them up for a second. Because now they realize who they are, what they're about, and whether or not they want to be surrounded by 7 million more of them. It's an awakening. Ask the question someday. Ask somebody that. Do you really want the entire world to be just like you? A fool would say, yeah, but give him five more minutes, give him an hour and a half or a day by himself and see what he thinks, whether he answers it honestly the second time around or not. It's in here. That's what we need. We need to address life as if all of us are in this together, and that I can't have all the land, I can't have all the money.
(05:20): You know what happens to the guy that gets all the money in the world? When he gets the last penny, he is the poorest person on the planet because money's not circulating. So yeah, you've got all the gold, you've got all the silver, you've got all the coins and all the dollar bills, and you can't get anything done because there's no circulation. Money has to circulate. You have to take a little bit out and pass it on, let somebody else get some, and it keeps that going. And as that goes around and around and around, everybody becomes a little bit better off.
(05:57): So when we think in terms of who you live next door to, or who you want to move away from, or what county you want to live in, because those people aren't there, you follow me? Where do you want to be? Do you want to be in a society where 85 different people from 85 different countries live next door to you and they are all happy, they're all contributing, they all have love in their heart and compassion? Or do you want to be in a society where everybody in that neighborhood looks just like you, acts just like you, and they're all miserable? Looking for somebody to hate, looking for somebody to blame and spoil your breakfast?
Asset ID: 2023.02.15.a-b
Themes: Civic Duty, Parenting, Community, Beliefs, Collaboration, Communication, Belonging, Neighbors, Compassion, Hate
Date recorded: December 4, 2019
Length of recording: 0:06:50
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/