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Bill of Rights Day

Followup Report:
Bill of Rights Day, 2008, Phoenix, Ariz.

THE LIGHTER SIDE -- A Delightful Gathering (Scroll down for 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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About the Author

  • Freelance writer Alan Korwin is a founder and past president of the Arizona Book Publishing Association. With his wife Cheryl he operates Bloomfield Press, the largest producer and distributor of gun-law books in the country. Here writing as "The Uninvited Ombudsman," Alan covers the day's stories as they ought to read. Read more.

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