Written by Michael Fletcher, Digital Democracy Project
The Digital Democracy Project is one of several ongoing projects at the Albert Gore Research Center. Envisioned as a computer simulation of the legislative process, when completed the DDP will be a valuable resource for a wide range of educational levels, from middle school to undergraduate history and political science courses. To illustrate the complexities involved in moving a bill through Congress, and ultimately to the President’s desk, we chose as our legislation the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This choice not only allows us to highlight a landmark piece of legislation, it also allows us to utilize many “primary source” documents from the Albert Gore, Sr. papers, since he was involved in the bill’s debate.
This type of material allows the student to explore and critically examine the legislative process and the civil rights debate by looking at both sides of the issue. We include constituent letters both for and against the bill. The program also contains scans of propaganda from the period such as pamphlets and cartoons. We further immerse the student into the debate by providing a wide array of opinion-editorial pieces and newspaper articles as well as photographs and letters to the editor that document the general public’s diverse views on the issue of civil rights.
To play the “game,” participants begin by choosing from among eight different roles. These roles include three citizens, a journalist, lobbyist, a political aide, Senator Gore, and Senator Everett Dirkson. Within each role, the student performs a series of tasks, mostly in the form of short written assignments based on primary source analysis. There are also a variety of quizzes and activities, as well as links to other informative websites and audio clips.
In addition to learning something of the civil rights movement and the legislative process, the DDP is designed to encourage students to think critically about issues not only from the past, but from the present.