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Review: Latest Exhibit At George W. Bush Presidential Center Offers Fascinating Look At Independence

Exhibit captures what freedom and democracy looks like
Photo by Ellie Levy
The George W. Bush Presidential Center where the Freedom Matters exhibit is being held. The exhibit will run until December 31 of this year.


A word that means something different to everyone and eludes a simple definition. For some, it is defined as the ability to speak, think and act without hindrance or restraint. For others, it is the absence of discrimination or even the ability to go outside everyday. 

No matter the definition, it is clear that freedom is something that should be of the utmost importance to every citizen. This theme is clearly illustrated in the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s “Freedom Matters” exhibit, covering important milestones in the development of freedom from a 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence to a pocket-sized copy of the Magna Carta written in 1217. 

Chris Walsh, the director of Freedom and Democracy at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, says that the exhibit was inspired by the Institute’s work on freedom and democracy issues.

The spirit of universal freedom that says all people, regardless of where they come from, should have the ability to make decisions about their own lives is the most central idea displayed in the exhibit and is paramount to understanding the exhibit’s themes.

In the first room of the four-room exhibit, several views on where freedom comes from are introduced. Some people see freedom as given to one by God or maybe society naturally is free. There’s many interpretations and none of them are necessarily wrong.

The second room has two sides, one representing democracy and one representing authoritarianism. On the democratic side of the room, the exhibit features governments such as the U.S. and discusses the origins of democracy in Athens and the authoritarian side covers the rule of kings in Western Europe and Hitler’s regime in the 1930s and 40s.

But finding the middle ground between unchecked freedom and an authoritarian regime is a difficult line to walk.  

Freedom without social responsibility is anarchy and no freedom at all is authoritarianism, so while there are many criticisms of liberal democracy, it is arguably the best system for maximizing individual freedom while still providing the average citizen with a sense of responsibility to those around them. 

The next room is the biggest, and in my opinion, the most interesting. It contains a timeline of the American battle for individual freedom, from the fight for an Anti-Federalist Bill of Rights, to the abolitionist movement, to the women’s suffrage movement and even to the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990. 

On the subject of rights, an 1831 copy of the Constitution is the room’s chief reminder of the rights we are all entitled to as American citizens, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the center of the gallery is a 1831 copy of the Declaration of Independence, which serves to remind us that while democracy is not always a linear path of progress, it provides us the path for recognizing inherent human dignity, protecting freedom and maintaining social peace.

The room also displays some of the darker parts of American history, such as Japanese incarceration and the national persecution of Native Americans, who had still been experiencing voter suppression in 23 states as of a 2019 Federal Commission review. 

Many people like to forget that these events ever happened, but without addressing history and learning from it, it is doomed to repeat itself. 

Arriving at the fourth room, there is a television screen. When someone sits down in front of it, they will hear several people talking on screen about what freedom means to them. 

There is a wide range of perspectives, from people living in authoritarian regimes like North Korea who just want basic rights, to people living in more democratic countries who imagine a world with more advanced rights and freedoms. 

Overall, the exhibit is extremely interesting. It isn’t too time consuming and the amount of reading overall is fairly minimal. It’s a fascinating look at the system that people often take for granted and allows them to really appreciate the freedoms that they have.

About the Contributor
Ellie Levy, Editorials editor
What are your favorite TV shows/movies? Community and Back To The Future What are your hobbies? Reading, TV, and French Horn What causes are you passionate about? Climate change and child labor regulation