We are all familiar with the first line of the Preamble to the United States’ Constitution: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” And stop. Here our memory fails us, because civics class in elementary school happened just too long ago, and the Constitution isn’t short and rhythmic like the Pledge of Allegiance or the Star Spangled Banner to make for easy memorization. Of course we are all aware of the relevance and constant referencing in public life to the Constitution and its Amendments. We see it when people practice their right to free speech in protests and when people gather in their houses of worship to practice their religion without persecution. We see it in the structure of the United States government, in the power invested in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, and in the checks and balances that occur in all three branches. And we see it, perhaps most significantly, when ALL citizens—no matter race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political preference—gather on Election Day in November to exercise their civic duty and cast their vote in local, state, and national elections. We don’t need to have the Constitution memorized to know that its impact on our daily lives is substantial and influential.
However, I do think it’s worth noting that it’s not insignificant that Americans are able to recite the first line of the Constitution, particularly the first three words. “We the people.” We, signifying the all-inclusive. We the people, signifying a commonality—a nationality—that connects our personhoods to one another and to a larger good. “We the people of the United States,” from past, present, and future, understand and accept the organization of government laid out for us by our founding fathers and commit to participating in our right to civic life to the fullest degree. We see ourselves in terms of communities, as citizens of a nation, and in order to make our communities and our nation function as we see best, we—the all-inclusive we—need to take part in the simplest and yet most instrumental aspect of civic life: voting. The United States is not an “I” country; the head of state does not hold all the power. We as voters hold the power and the choices that keep our country working and moving forward.
Today, September 17, 2012, is Constitution Day. On this day we as a nation celebrate the creation and signing of the U.S. Constitution by the 39 delegates and commemorate all those who have become citizens (whether by birth in the United States or by naturalization).
Today the University of Illinois at Chicago is leading Constitution Day events, much like communities throughout the country, and I encourage you to participate. Throughout the morning the campus community will have the opportunity to register to vote as well as sign up for internships and volunteer work. At noon, the public is invited to attend a guest lecture on “The First Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court” by Professor George Anastaplo from Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
Whether you choose to participate in Constitution Day events or not, I urge you to consider your role within that “we” come November when it’s time to cast our ballots and elect the president of the United States. Our government provides us the opportunity to vote for our elected officials, and that’s not something to be ignored or taken for granted.
IPCE Staff Member