Saturday, September 29, 2012

Celebrating the U.S. Constitution

Reg E. Gaines and Delores Fisher San Diego Public Library Constitution Reading

The American Constitution was officially ratified two hundred and twenty five years ago on September 17, 1787 with thirty nine delegates in attendance.1 This week on September 17th the San Diego Central Library had a performance reading of the Constitution in the Waggenheim Room featuring Reg E. Gaines and myself as readers with Dr. Pat Washington (UCSD) and Dr. Isidro Ortiz (SDSU)providing scholarly commentary and insights. A small audience, engaged and informed, attended. Some read along with texts provided by the library.

Reg E. Gaines, spoken word artist,recording artist, and director--well known for his groundbreaking Tony nomination work in "Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk" on Broadway in the 90s--was an inspiration to read with  A supporter of literacy, he  took time out of his busy schedule to participate in the event and made the reading's solemnity an exciting experience.

Dr. Isidro Ortiz led the question and answer session. He noted that the flexibility and interpretive allowance in the document was a breakthrough in European derived governance despite the fact that only landowning Caucasian males drafted it with little or no direct input from those considered in the minority (women, Native Americans, free Blacks, poor Caucasian non-land owners, indentured servants, and Black slaves).

Dr. Ortiz also noted that "the framers of the Constitution would probably be in shock if they were to enter this room this evening to see those of us reading and discussing their endeavor. All of us (performers and scholars facilitating for the reading) are people of color."

Dr. Pat Washington also noted the invisibilized influence of ideas based on the Iroquois Confederacy that influenced our Constitution's framing by elite landowners who were very much concerned about maintaining their power.(See: )The Constitution was created to replace the Articles Confederation. Colonials protested against real and perceived power infringements made by the British elite and Monarchy. Dr. Washington also noted the uniqueness of our reading, commenting on women's limited status and rights as citizens at the time of ratification.

Perhaps that's what made the evening so special. We the people previously considered as "3/4s of a person" or  not acknowledged as having "personhood" at all,  not counted as full stakeholders in the original consciousness of the document, are now literate, educated and in 2012 studying and celebrating its creation.

The San Diego Central Library will sponsor ongoing events to encourage Constitutional Literacy. The programs are part of a San Diego Public Library project: "Searching for Democracy: A Public Conversation about the Constitution. Made possible with support from Cal Humanities."

I will present four special performance readings in the downtown Library's main lobby of eventful court cases that reached the Supreme Court for judicial rulings. These cases impacted American society, challenging judicial interpretive stances. They also resulted in legislative action that changed the way we  Americans live our lives. The general public --including the legal and academic community are welcome to come and share their knowledge and experiences with us during these events.

Case One    Miranda V Arizona Sept. 26 (Citizen's Rights)
Case Two    Smith v Robinson  Oct. 3 (Disability Rights)
Case Three  Cottier v City of Martin Oct. 10 (Native American 
                                                     Voting Rights in South Dakota)
Case Four    New Jersey v TLO  Oct. 17 (the constitutionality of 
                                                     school search and seizure policies
                                                     and the rights of public school students)

Our Constitution and its provisions for us as United States citizens is, over two hundred years after its inception, still a vibrant legal document that plays an integral role in our daily lives.3  Many consider it a living document. No matter what one's interpretive stance on its contents, we the people should study it, why and how it continues to work despite drastically changing socio-cultural dynamics.

1. Jordan Terry.     The U.S. Constitution and Fascinating Facts About It (Oak Hill Publishing Co. Illinois: 2010). This small but concise little booklet was passed on to me by a good natured young Republican collegiate who seemed genuinely intrigued as to why I would be interested in the U.S. Constitution. We dialogued for several minutes about the importance of teaching the document with its Bill of Rights to K-12 students in grade appropriate content.

2. I was very aware that we had a national historic leaders and a Constitution by the sixth grade largely due to my parents' interest in history and historical narratives(autobiographies), the celebration of Abraham Lincoln's and George Washington's birthday, stories about the Boston Tea Party, TV shows about early America and the growing social unrest of the early sixties.

3.  Jordan Terry.     The U.S. Constitution and Fascinating Facts About It (Oak Hill Publishing Co.
     Illinois: 2010) 1.


Searching for Democracy: A Public Conversation about the Constitution - Delores Fisher

Our Constitution 225 years old and holding strong,
Delores Fisher

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