THE LIGHTER SIDE -- A Delightful Gathering (scroll down for the darker side)
The Bill of Rights Day celebration in Phoenix, held this year at the Wrigley Mansion, showed the day's growing popularity since events began here in 2003. This reflected growth nationally since 1997, when Aaron Zelman and Richard Stevens worked together to reinvigorate recognition of this most auspicious day.
More than 250 people -- the largest crowd so far -- packed the banquet hall and took part in the reading, food and drink, oratory by Patrick Henry (ably portrayed by Dr. Lance Hurley), and most important, a Town Hall discussion of the 217-year-old Bill's health and welfare.
The reading was led by people from the community, and joined by those assembled:
Preamble and the 1st Amendment: Author Alan Korwin
2nd Amendment: KTAR Meteorologist Ed Phillips
3rd Amendment: Americans for Prosperity Arizona Chapter Tom Jenney
4th Amendment: Federalist Society and Institute for Justice Jennifer Perkins
5th Amendment: Attorney Richard Stevens
6th Amendment: Justice of the Peace Gerald Williams
7th Amendment: Ronald Reagan and Ron Paul Aide Joe Cobb
8th Amendment: ACLU Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze
9th Amendment: Republican Jewish Coalition Arizona President Amy Laff
10th Amendment: Arizona Council on Economic Education President and 4th Great Granddaughter of Patrick Henry, Elizabeth Volard
THE DARK SIDE -- Redress of Serious Grievances
It turned out that examining the abuses and usurpations of our government -- which the "declaratory and restrictive clauses" of the Bill of Rights are supposed to check -- is serious business, not just a Hallmark card opportunity.
Those assembled expressed in no uncertain terms their anger that government had stepped so far outside its delegated boundaries, exercising unchecked powers, intruding into aspects of our lives that would have appalled the Founders, infringing upon or virtually eradicating freedoms we hold dear, and failing in its primary obligation -- the protection of our freedoms and rights. We found broad consensus on these points.
This reading of the Bill of Rights is potentially a very dangerous thing.
The government is not likely to take kindly to direct threats to its powers -- which the Bill of Rights specifically represents -- especially as it is held in hand by an angered people. The very idea that the people would take it upon themselves to examine government's abuses, usurpations of powers, abuses of authority, and contraventions of the very Bill that is meant to constrain government actions, is inflammatory.
At what point do the people, oppressed and incensed by the abuses of government, act directly to limit and yes punish those responsible? When are "public servants," feigning to guard us against infringements, brought to justice?
How is that government to react to this frontal assault on itself by the Fourth Branch of government, we the people? Do "officials" sit idly by and say yes, you're right, we screwed up, we'll leave you alone now? Or do they see the challenges as extra-legal, unwarranted foment, subversions of their unchallenged authority, and cause for retribution and retaliation? What do they tell their compliant press corps to tell the masses about all this?
By what means do the people rightly resist tyrannical, undelegated, unchecked abuse of power -- when elections and indignant letters to the editors have no effect? At what point does push come to shove? The people assembled asked -- where is the tipping point?
We have very real concerns. The abuses are not imagined, not temporary, not short lived, not arbitrary, not about to dissipate on their own, and not acceptable.
How It Went
If there was one common theme revealed in Bill of Rights Day 2008 this was it -- the federal government has overstepped its bounds with respect to the restrictions placed upon it by the Bill of Rights. Our rights are under assault. There was no disagreement. Too many felt the Bill of Rights was on life support.
Our government is exercising powers it has not been given, and it's not acting to limit the abuse. No one realistically expects such change to come from within.
There was inconsistent agreement on which abuses were worse, but there was unanimous consent that government had grown large, ugly and usurped powers it had no legitimate claim to take. The Tenth Amendment seemed to emerge as perhaps the most important and egregiously abused:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
Just who is responsible for enforcing the Bill of Rights? Is Congress, or the Attorney General, or Senator McCain, or the Speaker of the House? Are they charged with the duty to enforce the limits on themselves? Pure experience reveals that to be ludicrous. The limits on government are enforceable only by the Fourth Branch of government -- we the people!
The Bill of Rights was put into place by the Founders who recognized that government would naturally and inexorably exceed its bounds, acquiring more and more power. The Founders wrote basic rules for where that power must end. But they wisely left it up to the people to demand and enforce those limits -- government by its nature will do the opposite.
Perhaps we have for a time neglected our responsibility under this document. It is time to renew our watchful eye over those natural and necessary limits on government, which the Bill of Rights demands. We are the guardians. The requirement to act falls to us.
That's why Bill of Rights Day is dangerous. For if the people rise up and demand the limits placed on government, government is at risk. Its power and lifeblood are directly challenged by the very people it seeks to govern. The people's interest in limiting, regulating and governing those who govern threatens those who govern, and rightfully so. But so it should be in a free society.
We reached some pretty dangerous conclusions that day, 250 members of we the people, in Congress assembled, in the magnificent Wrigley Mansion -- itself a free-market product of the very freedom we sought to preserve. The Fourth Branch of government examined the other three and found them lacking. We were not happy (although congregating that evening was pure joy).
But who rises up, pitchfork in hand, and says enough? Surprisingly, many seemed at or near that breaking point, and these were decent and good citizens, your peers from around the neighborhood. How would government view that?
We had recommendations on the table -- from prison terms for violation of oath of office to heads on pikes. Suggestions ranged from statutes to punish errant politicians to periodic criminal background checks for every government official in the land. Burning gasoline-soaked-tire destruction of photo-radar tax collectors that surveil the innocent. Jail for judges who subvert the law or invent their own. Fully informed juries. Tax revolt.
We the people hungered for the common decency and rule of law we believe we are promised but that we do not receive. To a government bent on control and plunging headlong unbridled we edged perilously close to... well let's just say it got pretty uppity. I steered it away from a precipice more than once.
Two hundred and fifty of my neighbors and friends packed into the Wrigley Mansion ballroom the night of Dec. 15 and examined the Bill of Rights. Well dressed, well mannered, well heeled, we assembled for a night of light ebullience, an evening of recognition, honorifics, celebratory drink and dining. We found ourselves in a ferment of redress of grievances.
Bill of Rights Day is not some mild mannered milquetoast celebration, it is functional. The government is failing us, exercising powers we have not delegated, interfering with our essence, eating out our substance. It is unacceptable, implacable, must not continue. The Bill of Rights, not government edict and largess, must prevail.
We at Wrigley found ourselves appalled and unfortunately without consensus as to how to proceed. Author Claire Wolfe poignantly asked ten years ago, what do you do when it's too late to work within the system but too early to shoot the b@stards? Did she encapsulate the problem with this:
"The ideal citizen of a tyrannical state is the man or woman who bows in silent obedience in exchange for the status of a well-card-for herd animal. Thinking people become the tyrant's greatest enemies."
America needs 1,000 chapters of the Committee for the Bill of Rights, in 1,000 cities. A thousand points of light in this stygian darkness. We need to speak with a singular voice as the quintessential branch of governance. "You have no delegated power to take money from us in taxes and give it to businesses you deem poorly run. You don't. Whatever consequences you promise, whatever horrors you predict, you lack power to address the invented problems in this manner. You must cease and desist or face prison or worse."
Like I said, this is dangerous stuff. How far away is the tipping point? When do the intolerable acts put pitchforks in the faces of the Dodd-Franks who insist on our passive compliance -- while undermining our banks and homes? When do the house and senate speakers and "leadership" cross the point of no return? They are moving in that direction with no signs of brakes.
Who raises a hand when asked, "Do you want your taxes to go up?" How is it then that our elected officials keep raising our taxes? That's got a name. "Taxation without representation." When you have representatives but they fail to represent you, you are unrepresented -- while craftily deluded into thinking otherwise.
It's wrong to cast this as some sort of partisan dilemma. This not about the Republicans vs. the Democrats. This is about the government vs. you.
This is statism vs. individual freedom. The forces that have subjugated mankind since time immemorial are fighting the liberties that have created the greatest prosperity and abundance the planet has ever known. For all the political drawbacks of the classic "libertarian" philosophy, its underlying adoration of personal freedom, the right to be left alone, the right to do as you please as long as you harm no one, this must be rekindled. The late author and statesman Harry Brown recognized that government is a way for one group of people to impose its will on another group of people. We need less imposition and more free will.
"Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher."
--Thomas Paine, Common Sense 1776
Those of you who missed the meetings this year, mark your calendars now. Bill of Rights Day, Dec. 15, 2009, falls on a Tuesday.
Maybe we need to meet before then.
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