Smithsonian snags items to recreate Obama office

November 12, 2008 6:30:34 PM PST
Curators at the Smithsonian Institution wasted no time snapping up souvenirs from President-elect Barack Obama's historic campaign victory and revealed plans Wednesday to recreate one of the campaign's Virginia field offices in a future exhibit. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, slated to open in 2015 on the National Mall, scooped up items that had been headed for the trash can - such as election maps, strategy boards, campaign literature and even a Lazy Boy chair from Obama's campaign office in Falls Church, Va. - shortly after the election.

A 21-year-old undergraduate from George Washington University ran the office, which focused on reaching a culturally and ethnically diverse range of voters to help elect the first black president. Many of their campaign signs read "Koreans for Obama" and "Latinos for Obama."

"In this very uplifting way, it seemed to be a reflection of the spectrum of people who make up the larger American community," said Jacquelyn Serwer, the museum's chief curator. "We want people, whether you're African American or not, to see yourself in the stories we're telling."

Curators on Wednesday thanked Obama's Virginia staff for saving the items. Virginia was a key swing state for Obama's win. He was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win there since 1964.

The museum is acquiring as many as 100 items from the campaign office, though some will remain in an Obama volunteer's garage until the Smithsonian can find a place to store them.

The museum also is working to acquire objects from a campaign office in Colorado, to show the differing appeals from Virginia to the Rocky Mountains, and may pursue items from Obama's campaign headquarters in Chicago, Serwer said.

Most of the Virginia campaign loot would have ended up in the trash or been taken as souvenirs, volunteers said. The items may not be priceless artifacts, but they are "proof that we participated in one of the most historically significant elections in American history," said museum director Lonnie Bunch.

Campaign volunteer Edward Gerwin Jr., who served as office manager at the Falls Church field office, said any sensitive campaign information was shredded, but they gave Smithsonian curators furniture, campaign materials printed in multiple languages and even the white boards that hung on the walls for volunteers to organize and chart their strategy.

"It was hilarious because one day we were getting ready to toss all this stuff out, and the next day they were telling us what steps to take to preserve the writing on these white boards ... Suddenly they've become historical artifacts," said Gerwin, a retired lawyer. "We were obviously very honored."

Kyle Lierman, the 21-year-old field organizer who ran the office, said he plans to return to school in January to finish his degree in business but couldn't discuss the campaign gifts to the museum because he's still on the Obama payroll. In a statement released by the Smithsonian, though, Lierman said he was happy his moment in history would be preserved.

"I live in D.C.," he said, "and to think that I am going to be able to go to the museum in 30 years and visit my old office is cool."


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