Self-educating on voting rights to fight for the arts and social change

4 minute read

It’s a brand-new year, and it almost feels like the beginning of a brand-new era. With a new administration rolling into the oval office in a couple of weeks and a historic election result in Georgia, all eyes are on the state of democracy in America. So much has become visible in the past four years, and that visibility was intense and apparent in 2020. Our votes—and our voting rights—impact our livelihood, and that’s going to be felt right away as more information becomes accessible. We voted in November, but that doesn’t mean we stop there.

While the city’s art scene sleeps this weekend in its post-holiday hangover slumber, consider this weekend an opportunity to educate yourself on America’s history with voting rights. Integral figures like Stacey Abrams and the late John Lewis are just the start. This handful of documentaries is another step forward. In 2021, if you’re looking for some sort of “resolution,” then dig into this selection and continue pressing on to fight for social change in this country. Your votes impact the lives of many, including the artists in Philadelphia. Without that, there’s no BSR. And more importantly, without a strong democracy, there are no arts in America.

Happy New Year! Black lives matter. Trans lives matter. Voting rights matter.

All In: The Fight for Democracy

Stacey Abrams became a household name in 2020, but her political career officially started in 2002, and her work will pervade the nation’s history for decades to come. All In looks at America’s long-running problem with voter suppression, and the fight for voter rights isn’t over. The doc takes broad looks at the history of voting in America, with Abrams as a prominent figure as it shifts its focus on her impact on the state of Georgia and beyond.

The film is streaming on Amazon Prime.

537 Votes

For me, 2000 was the first election that I personally remember getting significant media attention (yes, I’m a baby). 537 Votes documents the controversy of the 2000 presidential election and how Florida, the US Supreme Court, the story of Elián González, and the Cuban American community influenced the process.

Stream 537 Votes on HBO Max.

Not Done: Women Remaking America

Women weren’t given the right to vote. They took it. That perspective outlines Not Done, a film that looks at the women behind several political movements, including Time’s Up, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter. Interviews and discussions with #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, Black Lives Matter cofounders Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen, and more are featured throughout the hour-long film.

Watch it on PBS or Amazon Prime. It’s also available on DVD.

Selma and the Voting Rights Act of 1965

March 7, 1965, was Bloody Sunday, the day when peaceful protesters marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, were brutally attacked by state troopers. Put this in perspective: the horrific events happened not even 60 years ago, and while the day prompted the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, this documentary serves as a reminder that this fight has been going on for a long time, and there’s still so far to go. Know your history: watch the 14-minute doc and read up on additional docs via the House’s History, Art, & Archives section.

John Lewis: Good Trouble

John Lewis was a major player in the voting rights movement. He was in Selma during Bloody Sunday, and he was on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement. Organizing Freedom Rides, integrating schools in his hometown Troy, Alabama, and more, Lewis called on Americans to get into “good trouble.” His passing last summer made waves through the world, and his work will continue to ripple through America’s future.

The documentary is available for streaming on HBO Max with a subscription, with renting options available on YouTube, Vudu, and Amazon Prime. DVDs are also available.

Slay the Dragon

Gerrymandering is just another way to undermine democracy, and it is a huge but quiet problem in America. And it’s not just about changing the district lines to influence voting outcomes; it’s about what else changes when those lines shift. The doc uses the Flint, Michigan, water crisis as an example of how gerrymandering can affect a community in a major way. With gerrymandering being in practice since at least 1812 and still occurring today more than 200 years later, Slay the Dragon offers an insightful look at what gerrymandering is and how it happens—drawing from conservative donors, lobby groups, and strategists that deliberately “don’t want everybody to vote,” as American Legislative Exchange Council founder Paul Weyrich is quoted as saying.

Slay the Dragon is available to stream on AppleTV, Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, and PlayStation Video. DVDs are also available.

Image Description: A medium close-up snapshot photo of Stacey Abrams, a Black woman, in mid-speech talking towards the camera.

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