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Signature Initiatives

Signature Initiatives

As the exercise of free speech and the free exchange of ideas is fundamental to participation in democratic societies, the Democracy & Debate Theme Semester offers several Signature Initiatives that provide opportunities to engage with in activities outside of the traditional lecture/panel format. They offer deep dives into the politics and policies debates that will shape the 2020 elections, and celebrate the ways in which the arts can provide us with creative avenues for active citizenship and meaningful engagement. Check back frequently, as new initiatives will be forthcoming throughout the semester.

American Flag flying in the wind
All Semester
Democracy & Debate Collection (Michigan Online)

Democracy and Debate

A democracy thrives when its citizens exercise their right to engage in every level of government. Becoming an informed, equitable, and empowered society depends on all members of that society adopting a learning lifestyle and embracing their constitutional rights. This Collection is a curated portfolio of learning experiences that will help learners understand the complexities of democratic systems, which includes content about current policy issues, community engagement strategies, social justice and racial equity, the underlying political and legal processes, and ways in which citizens can enact change in their own contexts.

See the Michigan Online Democracy and Debate Collection.

Sheryl Oring with typewriter
September 29 2020 - November 1 2020
I Wish to Say

Sign up here!

Artist Sheryl Oring returns to the University of Michigan for a month-long performance of “I Wish to Say” from September 29 - November 1, 2020 as part of the university’s Democracy & Debate Theme Semester in collaboration with Stamps Gallery, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design. In this project, Oring invites students and the communities from U-M, Wayne State University, and beyond to dictate a message to the next president with students typing the notes on vintage typewriters. These interactions will be staged as virtual performances via Zoom every Tuesday from 4:30 pm-6:30 pm and Sunday from 1:00 pm-3:00 pm. The typed postcards, which will be mailed directly to the White House on the participant’s behalf, will inform an exhibit of Oring’s work curated by Stamps Gallery. Additionally, selected messages will be set in Voters’ Broadcast, a new musical work conceived and composed by Lisa Bielawa, which will bring together choirs from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. The 15-minute musical work will be released in three parts over the course of the fall semester as part of the Democracy & Debate Theme Semester programming.

“This is an opportunity for our communities to speak out as we face a critical presidential election. I want to give people in Michigan a chance to record their views at this extraordinary point in history when the state has faced such tremendous challenges stemming from the pandemic while also grappling with the impact of systemic racism.” Sheryl Oring

To share your message for the next president sign up here!

Voters' Broadcast

Lisa Bielawa’s Voters’ Broadcast is a broadly participatory musical performance for an unlimited number of voices and instruments made up of choral and instrumental ensembles. The work is directed, conceived and composed by Rome Prize and American Academy of Arts & Letters Award-winning composer Lisa Bielawa, with text excerpted from celebrated artist Sheryl Oring’s I Wish to Say.

Voters’ Broadcast will bring together choirs from across the University of Michigan community during the Democracy & Debate Theme Semester to stimulate voter engagement, political awareness, and community participation in challenging lockdown conditions, through the act of giving voice to the concerns of fellow citizens, during the lead-up to the 2020 Presidential election. The work will be released in three parts, with events hosted by Matthew VanBesien, president of UMS, on September 30, October 14, and October 30.

Michigan Publishing book covers and publications
September 1 2020 - 31 December 31 2020
Dialogues in Democracy (University of Michigan Press)

The University of Michigan Press is pleased to announce the launch of “Dialogues in Democracy,” a collection of at least 25 free-to-read books contextualized by multimedia resources including author podcasts and videos. Ideal for students and the engaged voter alike, these resources illustrate the core tensions in American political culture—tensions that erupt every four years during the presidential election and are particularly apparent during these unusual times.

In fall 2020, University of Michigan students, faculty, and staff will join together in a university-wide educational initiative to explore what it means to a member of a democratic society. The free titles featured in “Dialogues in Democracy” allow the public to join this “theme semester” from anywhere in the world, with a curated selection from the Press’s world-renowned political science list enriched by interviews with the leading scholars who work with the Press.

“We’ve picked some of the best titles in the Press’s political science list and worked with the authors to make their books free-to-read all this fall,” notes Dr. Elizabeth Demers, the Press’s editorial director. “I’m proud to act as curator of this trusted, peer-reviewed collection of authoritative books on every topic from voter behavior to gun policy.”

A downloadable reading guide allows students and others to experience the richest, most comprehensive scholarship available today. Included books explore campaign finance and political polarization, how women work harder to stay in office, public attitudes concerning the presidency, guns and public health, the effect of the welfare state on low-income families, the remarkable rise of transgender rights, the politics of American Jews and millennials, and the central role that race will play in deciding who will next occupy the White House.

In addition to the recorded podcasts featured in the collection, a series of new online conversations with authors is being recorded. These will continue to enrich the “Dialogues in Democracy” feature throughout the fall.

The books are free to read through December 31, 2020, as part of the University of Michigan Press Ebook Collection on Fulcrum. The Press is grateful to Dr. Angela Dillard and the University of Michigan Presidential Debate Academic Advisory Committee for their support.

Learn more on Michigan Publishing’s website.

"action" photo of the A2 Clerk's satellite office at UMMA: Image by Eric Bronson
Ann Arbor City Clerk’s Office @ UMMA

The Ann Arbor City Clerk’s Satellite Office @ UMMA is open to U-M students, faculty, and staff who plan to vote in Ann Arbor.

Visitors can: register to vote in Ann Arbor, update their registration address, request an absentee ballot, drop off an absentee ballot (for city of Ann Arbor) and vote early (starting Sept 24).

Open 10am – 7pm, Monday through Friday. Enter through the UMMA Cafe with MCard.

The Ann Arbor City Clerk’s Satellite Office @ UMMA is an innovative collaboration across the arts, local government and a university. The project was designed and developed by Hannah Smotrich and Stephanie Rowden, Creative Campus Voting Project, an initiative based in U-M Stamps School of Art & Design. Their creative research focuses on how art and design can make voting more visible, less confusing and more celebratory and accessible for college voters.

The Ann Arbor City Clerk’s Satellite Office @ UMMA would not have been possible without the vision and efforts of Ann Arbor City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry, Professor Edie Goldenberg (Ford School), Briannon Cierpilowski (UMMA), Michael Rein (U-M Office of the Vice President for Government Relations) and many others. The longstanding partnership between the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor City Clerk’s Office is the result of many conversations and campus initiatives — Turn Up Turnout and the Big Ten Voting Challenge foremost among them — all focused on making sure that U-M students who are eligible to vote, and want to vote are able to do so.

For more information, please visit

Dewey Dialogue Deck

At the precipice of one of the most highly charged US Presidential Elections in recent history, the U-M Museum of Art (UMMA) and the Edward Ginsberg Center offer this Dialogue Deck exercise as a platform to examine and explore social and political norms, values, and beliefs through shared dialogue and reflection. There are numerous ways to reflect individually or in groups through the provided reflection prompts and debriefing questions. UMMA & Ginsberg Center staff are available to support the integration of this activity into your classes and programs. We hope you’ll use this deck to create meaningful dialogue and connection with your family, friends, colleagues, and maybe even yourself. Share your reflections on social media and tag us at @ummamuseum @ginsbergcenter!

OCTOBER 17, Time TBD by each party host
SparkVotes Parties!

Thinking about the upcoming election? Looking for fun (COVID-safe) ways to spend time with friends or make new ones? Host or join one of the many SparkVotes parties that will take place on October 17th — just 17 days before the election. Each party will gather on Zoom to compete in a series of party games — trivia, a song challenge, scavenger hunt, and more. The voting-themed games are non-partisan, fun, and will leave you feeling more prepared for the upcoming election. Plus, all participants will have the chance to win great prizes! Learn more about becoming a party host on our website.

Website Link: https://www.​​sparkvotes-party

The Functioning of Democracy: Insights from Michigan’s local leaders

The Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) has launched a project on the functioning of democracy at the local level that provides unique resources for U-M’s theme semester on Democracy and Debate. The CLOSUP resources provide insights into how American democracy is functioning at the local level, based on a decade of surveys of Michigan’s local government leaders, through the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS). Topics include citizen engagement, local officials’ trust in other levels of government and in their citizens, relationships and communication between the state government and its local jurisdictions, relationships between local officials themselves, and between local governments and their citizens, civil civic discourse, election administration, police-community relations, and more. CLOSUP staff are available to help faculty and students make use of these resources in theme semester courses and activities. Contact closup by email to, or see the project website: