ARTIST: Sheryl Oring
Secretary of the People
As part of the Institute for Wishful Thinking’s Artist in Residence for the US Government program, I am proposing the creation of a new Cabinet level position within the White House that I would fill for the term of the next presidency. As Secretary of the People, my job would be to create means of communication with the population at large, and then represent the people’s key concerns –- as well as possible solutions to national problems — to the President and others in the Cabinet. The need for this position grows out of an observation that the people who typically occupy top government positions have usually spent much of their
careers in the company of others who are climbing the political ladder, therefore they are functioning in the privileged world that exists inside the Beltway and are not really in touch with the concerns of everyday people. As the national media is also part of this insider system, it remains difficult for politicians at this level to remain in touch with the people who elected them. My art practice over the past decade has prepared me well to assume the responsibilities associated with such a position. In 2004, I created a public performance called “I Wish to Say” in which I set up a public office – complete with a manual typewriter — in places like parks, flea markets, or town squares and invites passersby to dictate postcards to the President. I am dressed in vintage office attire, and play the role of a dutiful secretary, taking down people’s words verbatim. Time and time again I have found that this methodology creates a scene that serves to break down barriers so that strangers sit down at my office desk and share some of their most personal concerns with me. It no longer surprises me when someone begins to cry as part of the process, as people often tell me they are extremely moved by this simple act of intense listening and exchange. To date, I have done three national tours of this performance, sending more than 2,000 postcards to the White House.
As Secretary of the People, I would create a network of 50 state-based Under Secretaries who would be responsible for working with me on presenting events aimed at interacting with a broad spectrum of the public and to discuss concerns and possible solutions that will ultimately be integrated into my platform as Secretary. These Under Secretaries would work closely with me to make sure that the voices of people not typically heard within the political process are now given a platform for expression.