October 20, 2020
By Andrea Bruce
I am a photographer, and for most of my life, I worked in international conflict zones. While working in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Mexico, people I met often asked me what Americans believe the word “democracy” means.
I gave them answers about things like the Bill of Rights, but as I spoke I could hear the gap between my answer and their understanding. I became dissatisfied with my answers.
Once I returned to the US, I was left wondering how people here at home, especially students, would answer the same question. These wonderings became the impetus for the Our Democracy project, one that seems especially important during this election season.
Can We Separate Democracy from Politics?
If you and your students are seeking to explore the concept and experience of democracy, free from partisan issues, we invite you to join other learners in the “Our Democracy” project, created with the support of the National Geographic Society and PhotoWings.
The project started three years ago as a visual exploration and community outreach effort led by a videographer, a writer, and a photographer, namely me. We visited communities of all types across the US, engaging others to consider what our democracy meant to them.
Our team traveled the route that Alexis de Tocqueville took to study democracy in the mid-1800s. We used visual and audio storytelling tools to immerse ourselves in different communities and understand those communities’ experiences and thoughts on contemporary democracy in the United States.
In Spring 2020, of course, travel stopped.
Now, in partnership with NWP, we are pleased to share a toolkit and launch a student/community publication site that lets us all explore the question, “what does democracy look like in our individual lives and communities?” The toolkit and site will enable a broad and inclusive conversation about the ideas that are the backbone of our political system.
Where do I get involved?
The toolkit provides an avenue for teachers, students, families, and community members to get involved. By answering invitations to participate in the toolkit, students can share their perspectives on democracy in writing, video, or photography, and publish their work on the NWP map of the United States.
The toolkit includes resources to support classrooms as they create multimedia content for the Our Democracy map. Teachers and students can choose from a playlist of quick activities for exploring democracy and a collection of suggested storytelling projects. The words, photography, and video students produce about their lives and communities will echo work that will be published in National Geographic online in October.
How to Begin
First, visit the homepage for the project. Once there:
- Check out the toolkit and explore activities for your classroom
- Sign up at the site to receive a code that will allow you and your students to upload their work while protecting their privacy
- Upload the finished products in word, video, or photo form
- Interact with classrooms in other regions
We can’t wait to see your students’ involvement, to encourage visual storytelling, and to further conversations about our democracy.