The Constitution is difficult to change. So difficult, in fact, that the thought of changing it at all almost seems like a waste of energy. America From Scratch, a web series filmed in Minnesota by Rewire and PBS Digital Studios, has found a way to cut through all the baggage with one question: “What if we could start over?”
Here’s the premise: America is being remade right today, by people like us. Every episode spends 10 or so minutes exploring a question about America 2.0. Like, should we elect Supreme Court justices? Should we have a quota to ensure that enough women are elected to Congress? Should we let 12-year-olds vote? Should we even have a president?
“Instead of saying ‘This is how things are and how they’ve always been,’ we think, ‘What can we do differently?’” director Josef Lorenzo says.
The episodes—with cameos by such notables as state Rep. Ilhan Omar and Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon—present both sides of each issue and put them into a historical context. An episode on whether we should have mandatory military service gets input from both an Israel Defense Force veteran, for whom enlisting was required, and an Israeli conscientious objector, who was sentenced to military prison. They weighed the benefits of knowing firsthand the cost of war, and the costs of perpetuating an industry that thrives on coerced participants.
Some respond to topical debates. The day Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, the creators scrambled to make an episode exploring elected supremes, asking whether justices can truly be above partisanship when they mostly vote with the presidents who appointed them.
The episode about giving 12-year-olds the vote cites the student-led gun control movement that rose from the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. If students are ones on the front lines of school shootings, should they have the power to elect legislators who will be accountable to them?
The hope is that introducing these questions without the legal gymnastics required to make them a reality will let viewers truly think about what they want their country to look like. It’s all a democratic thought experiment.
From Scratch tends to steer clear of Washington—a place perceived as languishing in the land of hot air and stalemate. Minnesota, Lorenzo says, is a haven for progressive politics, with the highest voter turnout in the 2016 election: 74 percent.
“It’s people from Minnesota that have inspired a lot of change to our stagnant politics,” he says.
One thing viewers won’t find is a definitive answer. Instead, they’re asked to share what they think. And they have been, Lorenzo says. People have been typing up novellas in the comment section.
One trend he has noticed is an age divide. Older commenters aren’t as open to the idea of sixth-graders at the polls or justices elected by the people. Younger ones are generally more game to see what would happen.
That’s no coincidence. People from all over the country and even the world have been watching, but the series is meant to shine in civics classes. The goal is to get as many young people as possible thinking critically about their vision of the nation and accepting fewer policies as a given.
The sooner the better. In 2016, the average age of voters in mayoral elections was 57. Lorenzo thinks if more young people believed their opinions mattered, maybe more of them would participate. The best way to do that might be to give them the privilege endowed to the founding fathers: a clean slate.