Center’s Animated Video on Citizenship Earns Telly Awards

The Center on Congress video “Citizens Unite!” — a 10-minute cartoon teaching kids about the importance of citizen participation — has earned four Telly Awards, the premier recognition for excellence in film and video production.

The Telly Awards program was founded in 1979, and the 2011 competition attracted more than 11,000 entries, from all 50 states and five continents. Judging is by a panel of accomplished industry professionals, each of whom is a past winner of a Silver Telly, the highest honor. 

Less than 10 percent of entries are awarded a Silver Telly, and “Citizens Unite!” won two Silvers — one for Use of Animation, and another for Art Direction. In addition, the video won two Bronze Tellys — one in the Children’s Audience category, and another in the Education (for academic use) category. More information on the awards is at www.tellyawards.com

“Citizens Unite! A Helpful Guide to Being a Better Citizen” features Francis the platypus, Paul the robot, and the ghost of James Madison, the man who helped write the U.S. Constitution, authored the Bill of Rights, and was the fourth president of the United States. In the video, the spectral Madison tells Francis and Paul, “Really you need to understand the bigger picture here. The big ideas that make our system unique — a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” See the video at http://www.tpscongress.org/citizens-unite/.

“It’s a serious message presented in a light-hearted manner, to grab the attention of young people and get them thinking about how a good citizen should behave,” said Center Director Lee H. Hamilton.

The video was developed in partnership with Milkhaus, a Denver based production company, with funding provided by a grant from the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) program.

Madison’s ghost recounts how he and the other delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 struggled to craft a document that would help the young nation stick together: “Since we had just fought a long hard war to be free of the King of England, we didn’t want to have a powerful single ruler in charge. And, with so many citizens spread across many states, we couldn’t have our national decisions voted on by all of them. So we knew that we needed to establish a Congress, where each state would elect representatives who would take their citizens’ views into account when making decisions for the nation.”

Madison goes on to explain the evolution of citizens’ rights in our nation’s history — citing milestones such as African-Americans getting the right to vote in 1870 with the passage of the 15th amendment; and women in 1920 with the 19th amendment; and young adults in 1971 with the 26th amendment lowering the voting age to 18.

“It is truly exciting to think that today we have more people participating in our democracy than at any other point in our history,” Madison says, before vanishing.

Key themes in the citizenship video are introduced by the voice of a narrator, who at one point tells Francis and Paul, “Voting is certainly important, but being a good citizen is just as much about making positive contributions to society. There are lots of other important ways to be a good citizen.”

“Such as?” Francis asks, whereupon the video shows primary source images from the Library of Congress’s archives of citizens engaged in reform movements in American history — “like establishing labor laws to protect young children who were working in factories,” the narrator explains, “or protecting the environment and setting up the national parks.”

“So what can we do?” Paul asks. The narrator rattles off examples: Pick up litter in the local parks. Organize a bike race for charity. Help the elderly. “Being a good citizen is about playing an active role in your community and creating positive change around you,” the narrator says.

The narrator emphasizes that being a good citizen is about more than what you do, it’s also about the kind of person you are. “Being able to really listen to other citizens and see things from their point of view, so you understand how an issue affects not only you, but everyone else in your community. 

“And perhaps most importantly, we need to be willing to accommodate other citizens’ points of view, sort out solid facts from slogans or rhetoric, and compromise in order to move forward and get along. Speak up and participate. You’ll be proud to look around at your community and know that you made a difference.”

“Citizens Unite!” is one of the many interactive resources available on the Center’s Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) web site at http://www.tpscongress.org. The TPS program provides resources and training to help teachers use the Library of Congress’s rich reservoir of digitized primary source materials to design challenging, high-quality instruction.