Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. A couple dozen people squeezed into the Blue Owl Bookstore sanctuary, sitting at the round tables, munching on fresh lox, onions and bagels, sipping coffee and tea and listening intently to a series of readers who brought the Constitution of the United States to life.
Created in September of 1787, ratified in June of 1788 and effective in March of 1789, the constitution delineated the national frame of our government. Since then it has been amended 27 times to reflect the growth of a nation and its evolving perspective of individual rights.
The first 10 amendments constitute the Bill of Rights and following 17 involve individual civil rights protection.
Many people have not revisited the constitution since the days when they were required to read it in history classes. Some people have recently felt compelled to look up certain inalienable rights involving immigration, citizenship, freedom of religion and even the requirements for impeachment.
Ten different local residents read for five minutes each, from note cards provided by Janette and Julian Taylor who organized their first reading 12 years ago.
Janette says, “We did a number of readings along the Front Range at venues including libraries and bookstores, the latter including Blue Owl Bookstore and Tattered Cover Bookstore. All together 10 readers got six cards each, which is about three paragraphs, although there are some sections of the Constitution when a paragraph can last as long as five cards long.”
The Taylors have the Constitution printed onto 61 4”x6” cards and then invited people to the event, asking those who show up if they would like to read aloud. That number is then divided by 61 and everyone gets their own set of cards and a number for the order in which they will read.
As they read, the listeners were surprised at some of the amendments, not realizing that many of our assumed rights had to be named and fought for.
“ People usually groan at certain points, like when Prohibition was enacted and more recently during the Emoluments Clause, and cheer at others: the end of slavery, the granting of the vote to all ethnicity, and women. The audience also cheered when Prohibition is repealed in 1933.”
The purpose of the readings, says Julian, is to unite people around the nation’s founding document. No matter what political background the participants represent, and there have been representatives of just about every political viewpoint at readings, a productive discussion usually forms around specific sections of the Constitution that zero in on meaning and interpretation, and rarely strays into heavy duty partisanship.
The Taylors have noticed that the more young people who are present for the readings, the longer the post-reading discussion period seems to go. They say that older folks had civics classes in high school, so they remember a bit of it. “Kids don’t get much of that these days.”
At the reading at Blue Owl on Sunday, the questions and discussion items were mostly around the meanings and enactments of certain amendments. How the Constitution gets amended seemed of particular interest, and also the absence of an Equal Rights Amendment was noted; the ERA has been under discussion and a number of efforts have been made to have it enacted, for nearly 50 years.
“The beautiful thing about the out-loud Constitution readings are that people feel closer to the document when they are done; closer, I feel, than they do when they read it on the page. It helps also to have definitions of unusual things like “Bills of Marque and Reprisal”, which appears numerous times. Also, we visually signify the sections of the document that have been overridden by amendments, an activity that is quite eye-opening.”
In discussion after the reading, members of the audience said they noted especially the details of the election process. One woman said the document was confusing, that there was an historic sense to its construction but that it didn’t seem to move forward in time.
Julian said, “When Thomas Jefferson died, he expressed shock at how few amendments occurred since the constitution was created. He wanted amendments to happen and we should know that we can cause them. Congress and the states can do it. The constitution is complex and humanistic. Long live the revolution.”
The Taylors will continue to do readings in Nederland, Boulder and Denver over the next several years. View their Facebook page: https:www.facebook.com/voicetheconstitution/?fref=ts for announcements of future readings.