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Ron Colone: When ordinary people make history

Ron Colone: When ordinary people make history

From the What you need to know for Wednesday, September 16 series
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Ron Colone: On the subject of all those scars

RON COLONE

Granted, I’m one of those guys who is into ritual and ceremony, but there are some events so momentous that anyone would be remiss not to commemorate. Like, for example, the signing of the U.S. Constitution.

It not only laid out the framework for the structure of the United States of America and the workings of our government but gave us the instruction manual for the grand experiment and the noble aspiration we call democracy.

Yet, no one got around to commemorating its signing for 165 years (which is about how long it took for the nation to start paying attention to the First Amendment).

The move to commemorate the signing of the Constitution with a holiday or celebration began in 1952, when an ordinary woman from an ordinary small town petitioned her City Council.

They liked the idea, and in September of that year, Louisville, Ohio, became the first town to “officially” celebrate Constitution Day.

The following year, she took her idea to the state government, where it was enthusiastically embraced by an assembly that proclaimed Sept. 17 Constitution Day in the state of Ohio — Sept. 17 being the date the Constitution was signed, in 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. (As a point of historical interest, neither Thomas Jefferson nor John Adams signed the document, as both were out of the country on official government business and surely for reasons of personal enjoyment and edification.)

From Ohio, the idea of a holiday made its way to the U.S. Congress, which passed a joint resolution, signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, designating Sept. 17 to 23 Constitution Week nationwide.

The thing that strikes me here is the power of the individual.

The woman who got the ball rolling wasn’t someone rich or famous or powerful; she was an “ordinary” citizen with an idea.

That, to me, is truly American, (and so, too, I guess, is the impulse of all these people at all these different levels to want to market it.)

Rather than creating and inserting a new holiday into the calendar, Congress decided to move and recycle an existing one: Citizenship Day, which also was founded and propelled by an “ordinary” woman, an immigrant from Hungary, who wanted everyone to recognize and proclaim how great it is to be an American citizen.

Citizenship Day replaced the earlier “I Am an American Day,” which started as a marketing campaign for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, and then spread nationally before morphing into Citizenship Day.

Even after it was moved from May to September, the “Constitution holiday” continued to be called Citizenship Day until 2004, when it was changed to "Constitution Day and Citizenship Day" (or, Citizenship Day and Constitution Week.)

I applaud the evolution from “I am an American” to “I am a Citizen,” for it takes the idea of our greatness as a nation and transmutes it, relating it to a people collective rather than the energetic touting of the red, white and blue.

I also appreciate the further progression to include Constitutional awareness, which ties us to concepts of liberty and justice, tranquility and welfare, and to striving for a more perfect union.

The law establishing the present holiday, which granted, isn’t one where banks and businesses close, implying, perhaps, that it’s not as important as some of the other (though I think it is especially important now) mandates that all publicly funded schools and federal agencies must offer educational information about the Constitution.

Unfortunately and too often, in my opinion, this is limited to the history of the Constitution, instead of the present truth and living reality of it.

So, this year, in celebration of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, and also in preparation of these final weeks of the campaign season, I’m rereading the U.S. Constitution (it’s only 4,400 words!)

After all, how can we form opinions and engage in discussions about who is defending and who is defiling the Constitution unless we know what it says?

Ron Colone can be reached at ron.colone@gmail.com

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