How Americans are experiencing their democracy

A photographer spent the past four years documenting a divided nation—and realized that it’s more than a political problem.

I took this photograph during the 2012 election at the Police Training Academy in Richmond, Virginia, where people were standing in line to vote. I think about this photograph often. It seems to embody much of the surfaced turmoil of the past decade and the reason why many are voting this year. It also reminds me of the many ways one can read a photo, and what people can get from it depending on their history and their experiences—like politics itself.

For more than a decade, I’ve worked primarily as a conflict photographer, covering wars and revolutions in nations other than my own. But four years ago I started a journey at home to see how the people of the United States experience democracy, especially at the local, grassroots level. I was curious about the deep political divide between those on the left and those on the right. But I also wanted to look beyond politics and examine the social conditions that underpin our society. There I found a greater divide that affects how all people see their democracy, their voice, their power: the divide between the haves and the have-nots. It is income inequality that creates the democracy divide in the U.S.

(Listen to our podcast episode with Andrea Bruce as she shares her journey chronicling democracy in America in 2020.)

In addition to National Geographic, this project was supported by National Geographic Society, Catchlight, and PhotoWings.

Andrea Bruce is a documentary photographer and contributor to National Geographic. She has photographed stories ranging from politics to sanitation. See her recent National Geographic story on women in politics here.

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