Dec. 15 was an historic day. Yes, another National Cupcake Day, widely believed to have been named for early-season University of Kentucky basketball opponents. OK, it was also Bill of Rights Day, and last Saturday marked the dedication, in Phoenix, Ariz., of the nation's first monument to the Bill of Rights.
Some of you may remember from civics class that this document — while not as tasty as a cupcake — allows us, among other things, Freedom of Religion (see UK basketball, above), Freedom of Speech (especially if you can buy TV ads or Congress members) Freedom to Bear Arms (including fully automatic, high-capacity school-sweepers) and Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, unless you look like a swarthy distant relative of Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden or Geraldo Rivera.
How, you may ask, could a great nation like ours let 221 years slip by without remembering to monumentalize the Bill of Rights? It's possible we were busy celebrating freedom, hung over from celebrating freedom, or occupied with more important matters, like the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the War on Christmas and naming days after desserts.
Politicians were delighted to show up at the state capitol grounds in Phoenix and claim photo-op credit, but the 10 years' worth of work to get the monument built was done by juggler-turned-comedian-turned-freedom fighter Chris Bliss.
Bliss wrote a joke a decade ago, urging people not to take down public displays of the Ten Commandments, but to instead post the Bill of Rights alongside and "let people comparison-shop." When he realized to his astonishment that no such monuments existed, mybillofrights.org was born.
I flew to Phoenix for the dedication where, on a drizzly Saturday morning, a couple of hundred interested citizens, dignitaries, donors, Tea Partiers in wigs and period costume, a pistol-packer or two, and the local news media, witnessed the unveiling of a gently curving arc of 10 graceful abstract limestone sculptures, each etched with the words of one of the original amendments to the Constitution.
Most of us accomplish little of lasting value. Many would be satisfied with Chris Bliss' remarkable show-business achievements, which include being the opening act for the Michael Jackson Victory Tour, a handful of Tonight Show appearances, and a global-viral juggling video viewed by over 50 million people.
Listening to his words last week, I was struck by the heartfelt dedication of this immensely talented, tenacious, yet wholly modest overachiever:
"When the Bill of Rights was ratified, its provisions only applied to roughly 5 percent of the human beings living in what was then the United States. They didn't apply to slaves, or women, or native Americans, or even white males of less than a certain property and position. And yet there isn't a single exclusionary word or phrase in the Bill of Rights, no 'other than's' or 'except for's.' And so as our understanding of freedom grew through the experience of it, and through the wrenching tragedy of civil war, we had the blueprint, one so well designed that today, 221 years later, we all assume that these rights should apply to all of us equally.
"And not only do we now assume it, but the very phrase 'Bill of Rights' has become synonymous with the demands of people the world over seeking freedom from oppression — a global template for human rights and dignity. It's also important to remember that this world-changing document was the product of compromise. I'm not sure when compromise became a dirty word but it is not a lack of principle. Compromise is a principle. It's the principle of respect for the knowledge and interests of others, and a healthy respect for the limitations of our own.
"And this compromise was struck with nothing less than the fate of the nation at stake. As we look at all the difficult challenges we are facing today, we'd do well to look at the success of the Bill of Rights as a template for how to best meet them. Great ideas make a great nation, and the Bill of Rights is one of the greatest ideas in the brief history of human freedom. To this day, it remains the most powerful and successful assertion of individual rights and liberties ever written."
Perfectly spoken. None of the politicians came close to matching Bliss' tenor and grasp of the moment.
I'm inspired. I think I'll go draw an incendiary political cartoon, pray for good weather, seize something but not search it, peaceably assemble with friends, and target-shoot some cupcakes.
Reach Joel Pett at 231-3443 or firstname.lastname@example.org