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(An answer to the oft-asked question, “What Can I Do?”)
In the early 1980s, the National Center for Constitutional Studies hosted, in conjunction with cities, towns, schools, and civic and religious groups, a number of activities during Constitution Week that drew hundreds of participants. For a number of years thereafter, there seemed to be a noticeable decrease of such events but in recent years the interest and the involvement of citizens has reached a high once again, bringing a resurgence of such activities in communities around the nation.
One of the most often asked questions by those who have learned the Founders’ formula for freedom as embodied in the Constitution of the Unites States is: What can I, as one person, do to help spread the good word of freedom? Let us review some of the activities that seem to be gaining strength which have proven successful recently.
Nearly every president since Ronald Reagan has issued a Proclamation on or around September 17 th of each year formally announcing the event. The following are the closing paragraphs of the most recent:
In remembrance of the signing of the Constitution and in recognition of the Americans who strive to uphold the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, the Congress, by joint resolution of February 29, 1952 (36 U.S.C. 106, as amended), designated September 17 as “Citizenship Day,” and by joint resolution of August 2, 1956 (36 U.S.C. 108, as amended), requested that the President proclaim the week beginning September 17 and ending September 23 of each year as “Constitution Week.”
NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 17, 2004, as Citizenship Day, and September 17 through September 23, 2004, as Constitution Week. I encourage Federal, State, and local officials, as well as leaders of civic, social, and educational organizations, to conduct ceremonies and programs that celebrate our Constitution and reaffirm our rights and obligations as citizens of our great Nation.
Armed with examples of past national, state, and local proclamations, one can fairly easily convince a mayor or governor to issue one for the upcoming September events (after all, isn’t everyone for the Constitution!)
It is helpful to ask if the city, school, or state would authorize a Constitution Commemoration Committee to be established to help with the planning of Constitution Week events.
The state of Arizona established just such a Committee in 1987, the year of the Bicentennial of the U. S. Constitution. Ever since then the Committee has been actively promoting the celebration throughout the state and also hosting a Commemoration Dinner in February. It is attended by approximately 200 people, including a dozen or more state legislators, some judges, city council members, and other elected and party officials. It is becoming a fixture which many look forward to attending. Our school always takes three of our history teachers and seven of our top history and government students to the event. A 20-30 question test is always administered to each table and our students who have studied The Making of America always come out with the top scores.
Last month at the dinner, Bill Norton, chairman of the State Committee, put together an audio-visual presentation showing what cities and towns from around the state had done for Constitution Week last September. We give the following edited version of his remarks so that you can get some ideas for your own community. Forming a committee and beginning to plan now is the key to a successful event:
The City of Avondale (population 55,000)
The City of Avondale supported the State of Arizona’s Constitution Commemoration Committee effort for the third consecutive year. The Mayor and Council issued a proclamation recognizing September 20, 2004 through September 25, 2004 as Constitution Week in Avondale.
The Avondale Public Library also incorporated American history into its story time readings. The Library events were warmly received by the public and overall the commemoration of the United States Constitution was a success in their community.
The City of Phoenix (population 1.5 million)
Phoenix issued a Constitution Week Proclamation and on September 21 st , Mayor Phil Gordon visited a classroom and read the proclamation declaring Constitution Week. Students at Cesar Chavez Elementary School drew pictures for Constitution Week. The City of Phoenix libraries had suggested reading material for children about the Constitution.
The City of Peoria (population 130,000)
In recognition of the anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, the City of Peoria hosted a Constitution Contest which included a Poster Contest for students from Grades K-4 and an essay contest for Grades 5 – 12. With the help of the Peoria Unified School District approximately 25,000 flyers, with contest details, were distributed to students at schools within the City of Peoria. Staff from the school district judged the entries and results are forwarded to the City for a formal presentation to the winners at a Peoria City Council Meeting.
The City of Peoria awarded the winners gift certificates from Wal-Mart ranging from $25 to $200 depending on their placement in the contest. The Grand Prize, a $1,500 college scholarship, is awarded to the best essay in the 11th and 12th grade category. This year the City of Peoria awarded 26 prizes.
The City of Payson (population 14,000)
On September 9th the mayor of Payson presented the Mogollon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) with a Constitution Week proclamation. On September 17th, Citizenship Day, the DAR had a table set up at the Payson Public Library with various leaflets regarding the Constitution which were available for the people to take. The leaflets were provided by the Daughters of the American Revolution and include; Know Your Rights Under the Constitution; Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death;” The American Creed Story; and The Star-Spangled Banner Story . Bookmarks were available for everyone with the Preamble to the Constitution, and pocket size copies of the Constitution were also available for all.
On December 11 th Payson held their first annual Bill of Rights Day celebration at the Tonto Apache Gym sponsored by Modern Woodman of America and other local businesses. The event raised money for Payson Community Kids and Rim Country Literacy. The event consisted of a Bill of Rights Proclamation, a visit from Patrick Henry: America’s Forgotten Patriot, patriotic music, and other information about the Bill of Rights including a Constitution handout given to over 3000 students and a Bill of Rights quiz that was published in the local paper.
The Cities of Paradise Valley/Scottsdale/Fountain Hills (population 300,000)
The two hundred seventeenth celebration of “Citizenship Day” on September 17, 2004, had special meaning for spectators and participants at the Paradise Valley/Scottsdale/Fountain Hills Celebration. The Mayors of Paradise Valley, Scottsdale and Fountain Hills read their Citizenship Day Proclamations.
Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard presented their “Pageant of Flags” giving the history and evolution of the U. S. flag. The 36 th Army Band from Ft. Huachuca, AZ, played the National Anthem and patriotic music of John Phillip Sousa, throughout the program.
Families enthusiastically signed the Constitution. By signing their names, awareness was raised in the students of the value of freedom in America. Signatures were recorded at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA.
The keynote speaker was Mark Spitzer, Chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission.
U. S. Savings Bonds and cash were awarded the 30 winners of the Poster Contest winners for grades one through twelve. Winning posters were on display throughout the evening and then were moved to different Scottsdale and Fountain Hills Libraries for additional display following Citizenship Day.
Students completed the open-book Constitution quiz and their quizzes were judged so that the winner could enter the drawing for the trip to Washington, D.C., provided by America West Airlines.
Those in attendance stood at Scottsdale Civic Center West Mall for the finale while Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts paraded down the grass field waving their American flags. All sang “God Bless America” and enjoyed a special Citizenship Day Celebration.
The Town of Gilbert (population 165,000)
School Education Program
The four weeks prior to Constitution Week, visits were made to each Gilbert school by founding characters, such as George Washington, Abigail Adams, and Patrick Henry who taught students lessons about the Constitution. Each teacher was given Constitution Lesson Plans and every student received a Constitution handout. Over 22,000 students were reached.
Family Constitution Lesson
This lesson on the separation of powers was distributed by the East Valley Tribune and various faith groups to over 25,000 Gilbert homes for parents to teach to their children in their own homes.
Citizenship Merit Badge
In cooperation with the San Tan District of the Boy Scouts of America, a Citizenship in the Nation Merit Badge class was held. Earl Taylor taught this Eagle required class to over 400 scouts and scout leaders.
A More Perfect Union
Shown at various times at Gilbert Town Hall, filmed on location at Philadelphia, A More Perfect Union chronicles the events of the Constitutional Convention and the principles that form the basis of our free nation.
A Tribute to the Founders
Four hundred fifty Gilbert residents spent an evening with John and Abigail Adams. The evening also featured the newly formed Gilbert Community Choir. John and Abigail give insight into their lives and answered questions from the audience.
The Constitution Fair was Gilbert’s culminating event. With the expected attendance to have reached 8-10,000, it would have consisted of community booths, founding characters, educational displays, parachutist, bi-plane flyover, patriotic program, and fireworks. The US Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, spoke to a filled high school auditorium that evening. To conclude the day, the Arizona Mormon Choir and Symphony and other entertainers, were woven into a mix of patriotic music and a multi-media presentation titled “A Blessing to the Nations.” The program briefs through history illustrates the struggle for human liberty and the blessing that the US Constitution has been to the world.
Are these enough suggestions!
Let’s make this September the biggest celebration ever. Remember, even hearing the word “Constitution” nowadays will help plant a seed of hope.