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Searching for Democracy: An Act of Civil Obedience

Grossman. Beth
Year Grant Awarded 2013

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State > CA Zip Code > 94005
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Artist Beth Grossman scribes the United States Constitution on Money Bags.

The United States Constitution is the one defining document that unites all Americans and is the foundation for our Democracy. Literally defined, democracy means “rule of the people,” yet the word itself does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. I am studying that incongruity and exploring the democratic intentions of our founding fathers as I publicly scribe each word of the Constitution with a handmade quill pen onto a collection of 50 moneybags discarded from failed banks during this recent Great Recession.

I am exercising my right to free speech and right to assemble by enacting this writing in civic parks as I engage the public in a dialog about the importance of reading and understanding our Constitution. Pedestrians stop by when they see me donning a tri-cornered revolutionary hat and scribing with a quill pen on money bags. They often ask me if I am selling something. I respond by saying, “I am trying to make sure that our democracy doesn’t get sold out.” I ask people, “Which of our civil liberties from the Bill of Rights would you be willing to sell at any price?” Usually they respond by telling me how much they value our rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

As a participatory performance artist, I create an open atmosphere for non-judgmental listening and thinking. I avoid discussions based on political party lines. Instead, I ask willing participants to choose one of the rights that has an impact on their personal life and write down why it is important to them. I offer them a quill pen to write on a two-dollar bill (printed at 5% saturation), which has an image of our founding fathers signing the Declaration of Independence. This is an opportunity to consider questions such as: What is freedom?; Can we determine what is good for individuals and country in a single document?; What are my personal responsibilities as an American Citizen?