PUTNEY — For many Americans, their right to vote is often taken for granted. For others, voting is a right that others are trying to suppress, as seen in headlines from across the country.
The 2019 documentary “Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook” takes up the story of how voter rights are being dismantled across the country, and what citizens can do to fight back.
The film is the subject of a forum being hosted virtually by Next Stage Arts Project at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21. The program will be aired on Brattleboro Community Television’s live YouTube channel.
The film is an example of the ways artists can use their chosen medium to address the issues of their time and call for change, said Next Stage Executive Director Keith Marks.
“Arts organizations such as Next Stage can use our platform to highlight pressing issues of our time — by entertaining, connecting, and informing our communities through shared experience,” Marks said.
Guests are scheduled to include Tim Smith, the film’s executive producer; Vermont Secretary of State James Condos; and Brianna Cea, the CEO and co-founder of Generation Vote, a youth voting advocacy group. The panel will discuss the film and the producers’ “Democracy Playbook” of actions people can take to fight voter suppression.
“I think they’ll be amazed at what’s happening to our democracy,” Smith said of what audiences can expect. “I think they’ll be empowered and sort of motivated to sort of, obviously not only register and vote, but to sort of see how they can help other people to vote.”
The film explores the effects of election restrictions put in place by state legislatures across the country since the 2008 presidential election, using tactics including voter ID requirements, reductions in early voting, mass purges of voter rolls and gerrymandering to lessen the voices of people of color, students, the elderly and people with disabilities.
Narrated by Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor Jeffrey Wright and produced by the American Issues Initiative, “Rigged” examines how barriers to voting rights are being imposed in plain sight nationwide.
Smith had previously worked in television news, at the PBS NewsHour, Newsweek Productions and MSNBC’s long-form documentary unit. His credits include nonfiction series for multiple cable and broadcast networks, including NOVA and Frontline on PBS. His honors include two Emmy awards.
While Smith was previously aware of voter suppression, working on the documentary was an education on its prevalence and long history. The violation of voting rights, especially those of people of color, transcends eras, geography and political parties, in the Jim Crow South and elsewhere.
“It opened my eyes to how big an issue it was,” Smith said.
The film traces the rebirth of voter suppression following the election of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008.
“Not that voter suppression didn’t exist before 2008, but it experienced a rebirth really, as a result of both Obama’s victory and also the dawning realization that white voters are increasingly becoming a minority and that non-white voters are becoming the majority,” Smith said.
“I’m just sort of amazed at sort of how blatant it’s become,” Smith said. “The gloves are off, and they don’t care anymore that people know that it’s voter suppression.”
“The demographics are going in the wrong way for the Republican Party. ... Really, they have no shame at this point,” he said.
The virtual panel, produced by Next Stage Arts Project, is co-presented by the Vermont League of Women Voters, the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the Jonathan Daniels Center for Social Responsibility and Disability Rights Vermont.
Paul Burns, the executive director of VPIRG, and Falko Schilling, the advocacy director for ACLU Vermont, round out the panel.
The film can be seen at https://vimeo.com/369584224 (password: rigged). It’s also available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
The discussion and mini documentary screening will can be viewed online at 7 p.m. Wednesday at: bit.ly/3ntI68V.