The past couple of years have been embroiled with conflict and controversy—from a grueling year of the pandemic to an election that forced our political system to go under incredible scrutiny moreso than any other time in the past decade, the United States has been in a state of reflection. In fact, it could be said that the whole world has been in a state of reflection about the policies (explicit and implicit) that govern our social, political, and environmental issues. However, the lens that we have viewed news through has been on a more global or national scale, rarely exposing the unsettling truths about our ignorance locally. Common news coverage for most Americans, such as CNN, FOX, ABC, and MSN, covers a more national perspective in representation, rarely zooming in on Seattle. This local perspective is tackled by Stand Up Seattle: The Democracy Project, an interactive exhibit at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) that explores social justice issues in an artistic yet informational way. Stand Up Seattle neutrally covers a wide variety of topics, such as Asian-American immigration, Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ protests, environmental issues, news resources, systemic racism, and involvement in democracy. With exhibits that engage your sight, hearing, and touch, Stand Up Seattle is a phenomenal localized outlook on Washington’s democratic history.
The doorway into Stand Up Seattle is the viewer’s first immersion into the interactive atmosphere of the exhibit. A walkway that surveys the visitor’s involvement in democracy ensures that visitors of all ages will have an immensely fun time going through the interactions. The entirety of the exhibit is displayed in the national—and very patriotic—red, white, and blue. The exhibit has a wide array of artifacts, such as a harpoon head from the Makah tribe’s whaling culture in the 1800s, to Pride T-shirts from recent protests, which are displayed throughout the exhibit. Materials used in Seattle protests were also shown to the public. It was an unsettling experience to see a spent tear gas canister, gas masks, and bottles of eyewash all right next to me. By displaying these objects that were key parts of protests, the exhibit attempts to accustom visitors to vital social justice history in Washington. It brings a nuanced depiction to marches and protests we may have only visualized in our heads or seen on our screens, humanizing the protesters that were on the streets fighting for their rights.
From correcting the Declaration of Independence to fit modern standards to watching attentively produced videos about Black Lives Matter and Pride protests, audiences can move seamlessly through the exhibit. The exhibit is engaging and well-thought-out, and it inspires thought-provoking conversations about identity and democracy. Viewers can question their own involvement with democracy, challenging their own biases and initial thoughts on Seattle-based events. The exhibit is littered with activities and conversation starters for viewers to comb through. Because of this, it is best to view the exhibit with other people, as conversations were a key part of the experience.
Stand Up Seattle also sheds a light on Seattle’s democratic history. At the start of the viewer's experience, the museum provides flyers detailing ways to interact in democracy and has informational charts to show citizens of all ages how to get involved. One particular video on the Black Lives Matter protests in June was showcased as a part of the exhibit, displaying a step-by-step narrative of the Seattle protests such as the Western Barricade and The Battle for the Hill. The narration and factual quality were captivating, enriching Washingtonians about the events in Seattle they may not have been aware of. Allowing viewers to take their own path through space also gives the viewers their own agency while viewing the exhibit, demonstrating another key part of democracy. The highlight of the exhibit was seeing the rest of the visitors’ reactions in the end. Museum-goers had the opportunity to record themselves answering prompts to be displayed at the end of the experience. With a surprisingly wide variety of ages (children and teenagers included), it was incredibly fun to view their reactions. By recording your own, you can leave your own mark on the exhibit.
As someone who has rarely examined Washington’s local socio-political atmosphere, Stand Up Seattle: The Democracy Project was a fresh and inclusive exhibit that involved all people in Washington’s history. By the end of the experience, the conversations that I had with the people around me challenged my own internalized biases surrounding Seattle events. By encouraging discussion on Seattle’s racial and LGBTQ+ history, immigrant rights, Indigenous culture, and democratic involvement, the exhibit inspires its viewers to get involved. Democracy and activism have never been more important, and recent events are demanding us to stand up for our rights. By observing our own localized history, we as people of all ages can try to change our own beliefs and actions to make Seattle an increasingly inclusive place.
Stand Up Seattle: The Democracy Project is available to view in person at the MOHAI through July 5, 2021. For more information see here.