Tracing American democracy from the Revolutionary War to the 2021 Capitol riot and beyond is the new PBS documentary Preserving Democracy: Pursuing a More Perfect Union. Premiering on the anniversary of the deadly January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, the film explores the ideals and flaws of democracy, recurring cycles of civil rights progress and backlash, shifting voter rights and rules, and the role of civics curricula in fostering engaged and informed citizens.
The domestic assault on the Capitol complex stands out as one of the most shocking moments in American history. Incited by a sitting president, the riot caused the deaths of five people; 140 Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia officers and numerous civilians were injured; and a hole was torn in the democratic system the nation has nurtured for nearly 250 years.
As the country continues to grapple with the activities of the insurrectionists and considers the lasting impact of this event, the new two-hour documentary examines the pursuit of democracy, within our nation and others.
Narrated by Tamara Tunie (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Journal for Jordan, Cowboy Bebop), Preserving Democracy: Pursuing a More Perfect Union chronicles the history of the democratic system from its origins to the present. It addresses political divisiveness and threats to democracy around the world, considering global progress as well as regression and offering reflections on lessons learned.
“The Capitol insurrection stunned our nation and shook the foundation of our government to its core,” said Dana Roberson, Executive Producer of Preserving Democracy: Pursuing a More Perfect Union. “Through this documentary we encourage people to think critically about the future of our nation and the role we each play in preserving our democracy.”
Providing robust historical context, Preserving Democracy: Pursuing a More Perfect Union. chronicles changes in American ideas of democracy, from the American Revolution and the earliest days of the Republic through Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement and the suppression of the Black and Mexican American vote in the 1960s and 1970s. The film tracks former President Barack Obama’s path to the presidency. It also explores how identity politics and changing ideologies across the country helped pave the way to the election of former President Donald Trump and the events that followed.
Moving beyond the 2021 Capitol riot, Preserving Democracy: Pursuing a More Perfect Union surveys the formation of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, and what the committee is seeking to uncover. The film looks to the present and future, including the push to educate voters on shifting voting rights rules and the role of a civics curriculum in education to engage and foster an informed citizenry.
Film Interviews and Experts
The film features interviews with political experts, activists, journalists and historians, including Valerie Jarrett (former Senior Advisor to the President of the United States), Janet Napolitano (former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security), Fiona Hill (Presidential Advisor and former official at the U.S. National Security Council), Robert Costa (former anchor of Washington Week and author, Peril), Jelani Cobb (writer, author and educator), Janai Nelson (Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.), Ramesh Ponnuru (political journalist), Steven Cook (Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations), Mutale Nkonde (Founding CEO of AI For the People), Alexis Coe (Presidential Historian and New York Times bestselling author), Marcia Chatelain (historian) and Eric Foner (historian), among others.
Additional PBS Programming
To add additional context to the rise of far-right extremism and the events leading to the January 6, 2021 insurrection, FRONTLINE will also re-air American Insurrection. Originally broadcast in April 2021 with support from The WNET Group’s Exploring Hate initiative and in partnership with ProPublica and Berkeley Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program, the updated documentary will debut on Tuesday, January 4 at 10 p.m. E.T. on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/frontline and the PBS Video app.