Life Support for A Living Document
Our organization started more than a decade ago as a loose group of young but interested people noisily touring the halls of government and meeting with elected officials. Throughout our evolution, the field days spent exploring public buildings have continued to be a major component of our program. One day several years ago we were casually guiding ourselves through the State House, searching for a meeting to drop in on or a person to have a conversation with. We stumbled upon an individual who was at that time in a very high public office there, although we didn't realize who he was right at first.
Who can remember how, but our conversation turned to the subject of the United States Constitution. The question was asked of him:
"When was the first time you read the U.S. Constitution?"
"...High school," was his reply.
Later in the conversation, we asked the follow-up question (in our squeaky teeny-bopper voices): "When was the last time you read the Constitution?"
He paused this time, more than a bit embarassed, but eventually replied that the last time he had read it in its entirety was probably high school, although he was quick to add that he occasionally referred to it.
We were honestly shocked. How could an elected official, who had sworn to uphold this document, not have studied it thoroughly? Excited and perplexed, we brought this discovery up at several round tables after that. The question was asked repeatedly, of many diverse people, and we began to see that the ignorance we had been so shocked to discover was actually disturbingly commonplace. On all different levels of influence throughout the State, the people we met with - grassroots organizations, police officers, officials both elected and appointed, and the man on the street - had mostly similar answers to the question. It bothered our collective conscience, and so we decided to do something about it.
We began to meet amongst ourselves on a regular basis to read the document over endless pots of tea, not unlike a bookclub. Here we discovered the benefits of examining and discussing the document as a group. We began to explore the idea of expanding our discussions beyond ourselves as a matter of public outreach.
Enter The Constitution Project.
Starting in November of 2009, we have been hitting the streets and passing out pocket Constitutions--neat little booklets with the original document, verbatim and unabridged, plus all 27 amendments and the Declaration of Independence, important dates and a thorough index. We distribute them free to passerby in high-traffic areas.
We also distribute them at libraries throughout the state, where the second phase of the project takes place. At least once a month, and sometimes twice or thrice, we host a roundtable-style discussion on the Constitution, usually focusing on a specific amendment or application. Attendees are as diverse as they come, and we very rarely come away with any sort of consensus. And that's okay, because our intent is not to make anyone agree with anything, but to discuss openly and gain perspective. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.