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): I voted for as many times as I could in my life, registered and voted. I like the idea because it makes you feel like you've made a contribution or I put the little sticker on my window usually, sometimes it was, I think as many as three of them on there, and this is over the years and then they fade off or they get washed off or whatever, but they're on my truck door. When I go down there, I see people that I know. I commune with people. We talk and there's something to be said about people getting together to do something. It's almost like hearing a choir. If you hear a choir of 50 or 80 people sing, you know that they've worked on that song because when it's done, it's one sound broken up into all these segments that move you. It will either give you chill bumps or impress you in some way that makes it, wow, that was a wonderful experience.
(01:10): Same thing when you go see a movie. If you look at the credits of the movie, especially a big, big movie, blockbuster movie, you look at all the names, all those names, of names you can't pronounce, and I'll sit there and try to read and I'm reading, okay. I said Charles Smith, okay, because I got that one, but you see so many names. All those people got together and took 60 million or 125 million dollars and made a movie. Everybody doing their part. Choirs, the Olympics, basketball teams, things of that name.
(02:01): There's a school of fish. You ever see those fish, they have no radar. They don't use sell phones. They don't have earpieces. They don't have signals. But these little silver fish in schools of thousands, thousands swimming in one direction and then at once, not a line of ducks, at once they change direction. We have to have cell phones, we have to practice, we have to have lights and signals, we have to rehearse it. We've got to go through so much. Just try to watch a marching band get a routine together. I did little bass clarinet when I was in school, marching and those routines... Well, it's 9 o'clock, coach came, we'll do it one more time.
(03:03): These fish, thousands of them in one millisecond, they change direction, and they'll do it again in the next millisecond if they need to. That to me is more amazing than an iPhone going to the moon and anything else that you can throw at me right now. That to me is amazing because that says there is a communication above what we know. We may have had it at one time, but it's above what we know. You got to know that everybody's connected. Everybody's connected. Everybody needs something.
(03:50): And, if you're the king or the leader or the head or the president and you're not making sure everybody else is taken care of, you'll never get the job done because somebody is not going to be in accord with you and that hinders you from getting your job done. Try to do it on the football team, try to do it in any other capacity. We need to change the paradigm. We need to do that and stop thinking that... I do this old man Otis voice when I was in San Diego, in California. Old man Otis is a character I used to do and he was the guy that in my mind had always been alive.
(04:41): And, so old man Otis would tell you that we are all the same people and so on. If you hear somebody who's been here for all of time say, we're all the same people, it shuts down all the other arguments. If you know that, if you feel that. If somebody had been here for all those years all the time and says, we're all the same people.
(05:20): My dog Cocoa had puppies for 12 years that we had Cocoa when I was growing up, and they were brown puppies and white puppies and dark puppies and spotted puppies, strong puppies and weak puppies. 12 litters of dogs. There's the dog that gave them, these are all different, but they're all her puppies and she took care of all of them. Some of them died, some of them didn't. Some of them ran away, some of them were given away, but they were all her puppies. We don't see it the right way, that's why we're not doing anything the right way. We don't see it the right way. We're all connected.
Asset ID: 2023.02.15.c-d
Themes: Voting, interconnectedness, animals, communication, voting, leadership, storytelling, storytellers, humanity
Date recorded: December 4, 2019
Length of recording: 0:06:01
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/