Are You Celebrating Constitution Week In Your Community?
Interest in the Constitution seems to go in cycles. We have noticed during the past year that more people have expressed interest in doing something to help strengthen America and they usually mention the Constitution in their conversation. One of the things we always remind them is that we have a Constitution Week every year which is a great launching place for local activities.
On February 29, 1952, a joint resolution of Congress designated September 17 of each year as CITIZENSHIP DAY in order to commemorate the signing of the Constitution of the Unites States, which occurred on September 17, 1787.
On August 2, 1956, Congress set aside the week of September 17 through 23 each year as CONSTITUTION WEEK, and requested that the President establish it each year by Proclamation.
In keeping with these congressional mandates, President Ronald Reagan consistently issued proclamations during the years he was in office. The President specifically requested help from the leaders of the state and community. He said:
"I urge federal, state, and local leaders, as well as leaders of civic, educational and religious organizations to conduct ceremonies and programs...to commemorate the occasion."
What Can Citizens do to Help Celebrate the Constitution?
NCCS has been active for many decades now in helping citizens understand that it is not too difficult to start something in your community. First of all you must sell the idea. This usually begins in the mayor's office. Show a copy of President Reagan's (or a more recent) proclamation to the mayor or an assistant and explain some of the things you want to see accomplished in the community. Ask if the mayor would be willing to sign a proclamation and endorse the community activities.
A couple of Eagle Scout candidates created effective Eagle Projects centered around Constitution Week celebrations, including getting many mayors nationwide to proclaim Constitution Week in their community.
Most public officials prefer a written proclamation already prepared. A sample of wording which may be used can be seen on page four of this letter. Just select what you want the mayor to say, draw up a suggested document, and present it for consideration. Don't worry about having special paper or type equipment. The mayor's office will prepare it formally for signature.
Other elected officials could also be asked to add their support in a similar manner. Don't forget city councils, county commissioners, state legislators, and governors. Most would be honored to join in acknowledging and proclaiming this special day and week. (Some of our most effective programs have been during election years!)
Getting Others to Help-Forming a Steering Committee
It is relatively easy to identify several others in the community who also have a love for the Constitution and may do something to help. Forming a committee will help get things done quicker without overloading anyone. It is amazing what can be done even with only a month's time. A Steering committee could be made up of one person responsible for each of the following:
Civic organizations and Service Clubs
Service clubs have flourished in the atmosphere of freedom provided by the Constitution. They are typical products of America, though many are now international. It is still true that "there are no service clubs in communist countries." It seems appropriate that service clubs and civic organizations should make some observance of Constitution Week a part of their program.
The Daughters of the American Revolution is an organization with many chapters throughout the United States. Members of DAR are also very supportive of Constitution Week celebrations.
Businesses and Professions
The business and professional leaders have always been most active in sponsoring Constitution Week and free enterprise programs. They are often willing to help advertise the activities by distributing announcements to customers, sponsoring top students to be recognized at community events and seminars.
Schools beginning in late August or early September are very fruitful contacts for generating enthusiasm for Constitution Week activities. Many schools are already geared to do something and it serves as additional help to have the community recognize their involvement. Depending on the grade levels, poster and essay contests, choirs and bands at community events, colonial period dress-up days, flag presentations, in-the-classroom presentations from a special speaker, etc. can all add to the rising awareness of our young people about the Constitution.
One of the most active organizations in the Phoenix area during Constitution Week is the local chapter of The Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge . The Freedoms Foundation has 29 chapters around the nation-probably one close to every metropolitan area. They have put together a number of presentations for school classrooms which are very interesting and informative for young people. During Constitution Week the PTO at our school (grades7-12) organizes presentations from the Freedoms Foundation every day. They include a visit from George and Martha Washington, a Colonial Soldier, Betsy Ross, Abraham Lincoln, James Wilson, and Uncle Sam (teaching flag etiquette). We have even had parents give presentations in classes about some special event in their lives in reference to America.
One of our own NCCS supporters, Luann Ose, does very popular presentations as the Thomas Jefferson Lady. She probably knows more human interest stories about Thomas Jefferson than any one alive and is extremely appealing to students.
A list of churches is readily available from the yellow pages of most telephone books. Many ministers are very supportive of patriotic efforts and will lend their name or support to a community effort. Publishing announcements in church bulletins, patriotic sermons, seminars and evenings meetings, are all ways ministers have helped spread the word in their congregations.
After a proclamation of Constitution Week has been made in your community, letters to the editor of the local paper and public service announcements are quick and effective ways to bring attention to the upcoming celebrations.
Constitution Week Program
Every Constitution Week celebration should include at least one major event during Constitution Week. Depending on the preparation time and the audience, the program could be simple or elaborate. The main thing is to get the tradition established.
The simplest program can be scheduled in a matter of days. It may include only a speaker or two and some musical numbers. Schools are always looking for places for their music groups to perform and city or state office holders are always willing to give patriotic speeches. Programs such as these should not be too "intense" or "preachy" but should be enthusiastic with a lot of flags flying and patriotic music played and sung.
More elaborate programs may include contests, special visitors, drama productions, etc.
Constitution Week celebrations in Mesa, Arizona, for example, have been going on now for over 30 years-the longest we know of any city in the nation. Mesa is now a large city of over 450,000 in population. Years ago, under the leadership of Louis Stradling, the city council approved the formation of the City of Mesa Constitution Week Celebration Committee. Its celebrations have grown in size and complexity over the years and have become a well-established tradition in our city.
Families are invited to come an hour early and bring their dinner to eat on the grass at the amphitheater while listening to school bands and choirs give stirring patriotic music. No less than a thousand flags are seen flying as local Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops are well represented in their uniforms. It is a fun celebration.
Each year the committee in Mesa gives a written Constitution Test at the evening celebration. During the rest of the program the scores are tabulated and the winner is announced at the end of the program with America West Airlines presenting the winner with two round trip tickets to Washington, D. C. Such an event has always been a big draw for students to study the Constitution.
Local state legislators are always in attendance and have prominent place on the program.
No matter how much time one has or hasn't, or no matter how many people will help, there is always something that can be done.
Here is a sample Proclamation to be used in your community if so desired. Sample Proclamation
Have a successful Constitution Week in your community!
Earl Taylor, Jr.