Our Civic Ritual of Freedom
Danielle Allen, author of Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, discusses her acclaimed book in conversation with Nadine Strossen, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, and professor of law at New York Law School. Troubled by the fact that so few Americans actually know what the Declaration says, Allen, a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study and a political philosopher widely known for her work on justice and citizenship, set out to explore the arguments of the Declaration, reading it with both adult night students and University of Chicago undergraduates. Keenly aware that the Declaration is riddled with contradictions – liberating some while subjugating slaves and Native Americans – Allen and her students nonetheless came to see that the Declaration makes a coherent and riveting argument about equality. They found a historical text that is an animating force that could and did transform the course of their everyday lives.
"Of all the countries in the world, we and we only have any need to create artificially the patriotism which is the birthright of other nations.”
The Atlantic 1916
The Declaration of Independence
The preamble to the Declaration of Independence contains the entire theory of American government in a single, inspiring passage:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
To create a national civic ritual that celebrates our constitutional republic while educating citizens about our constitutional framework.
Citizens benefit from the discovery of shared values and those values will emanate from a celebration of America’s origins. Washington’s Farewell speech can prompt an annual assessment of where we are along with a patriotic reflection of who we are.
In 2020, Philadelphians can lead the way again. The Philadelphia area is rich with museums, nonprofit institutions, academic centers such as the NCC, the Revolutionary Museum, that have their roots in the founding of the nation and celebrate its values and achievements while recognizing the pathology. Additionally, there are many institutions and public spaces that celebrate the values and highlight the challenges of our union. I invite you to consider this multi-year, multi-phase “treatment plan” for our disunion.
Starting the process
On February 22nd, the designated date for reading Washington’s Farewell Address, public readings and accompanied by a public conversation will be held at a historic institution. The event will include elected citizens representing the region locally, at the state level and nationally. The reading of selected parts provides an opportunity for individuals to share their reflection on their experience of citizenship and to identify opportunities for reclaim democratic and liberal values in our diverse society. Washington’s Farewell speech can prompt an assessment of where we are as a nation and generate dialogue as to how to return to the journey defined by shared values of being American.
Creating a shared vision of the Union
Building on existing material associated with the vision of the United States, (our better angels) we will use digital engagement to develop a document that serves as an organizing activity that explores and celebrates Americanism based on Washington’s Farewell Address. The document is crowdsourced, collecting the national documents and other artifacts of the American people.
We can share and reflect on our hallowed civic texts: Our songs and poems of freedom, Our unfinished agenda, documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King and others. The evolving document will provide a safe container for communications and utilize a format that includes narrative, strategies, tools, and space for innovation and crowdsourcing to promote empathy, knowledge, and dialogue that celebrates different opinions and beliefs.
Establishing national rituals
Rituals can help affirm the social contract established and fought for by prior generations of Americans. Many religions have established rituals that sustain them from generation to generation. (The Passover Seder) as a framework for a national ritual. As a central part of the ritual, we can reaffirm Washington’s call for recognizing the importance of being Americans regardless of the various, multiple identities we hold important that define and energize us. The people of Philadelphia can initiate a civic ritual that builds on Washington’s counsel and celebrates our shared values and develops strategies that promote cohesion rather than division. The ritual, using a shared document, that is reflective of the “identity of the users” provides an opportunity for civic reflection and strengthen ties among individuals, families, communities, and nations. The ritual allows for patriotic reflection and sharing of hope allowing for a more intimate sharing of common bonds.
Setting tasks and “Home Work”
Citizens across the nation can join together to discuss strategies to solve problems impacting the entire nation, work to unite across regions and ideologies. Using a framework and format that promotes communication and dialogue, aided by digital technology, moderated by a representative nonpartisan organizing body, citizens can educate ourselves to counter the excitation of passions by politicians and other representatives of factions, hold political parties accountable not only during election time by engage with them utilizing tools of active citizenship, take to the streets to petition the government when it doesn’t represent us. This process can contribute to a better understanding of the constitutional framework that is central to our body politic/ civil society. Perhaps we can focus on a social challenge for which there is wide, bipartisan agreement and work to most effectively confront it. One such challenge is the opioid epidemic ravaging the country.
Monitoring and assessing the outcomes
Current political decision making and government performance suffer from information asymmetry that marginalizes the citizen making it difficult to assess the function. To meaningfully participate in our government, It is crucial for decision making to have relevant, accessible, reliable and timely information. Additionally, the “performance” of our government is rarely discussed in meaningful ways that can enhance public engagement. What is needed is a formalized way to “track” the performance of the government along with multiple relevant indicators. For example, currently, the focus is on measuring GDP, an indicator of growth that doesn’t reflect the core function of government to enhance citizen well being. The Health of the Nation Initiative provides ongoing data and information that is relevant to the challenges facing our nation and the process and resources addressing them. We provide information where available and to seek to create a political process to develop the needed data sources for public use. Taken together, the selected indicators reflect the overall health of the nation and the efficiency and efficacy of our political system. The data allows us to assess how we are doing and what we need to do to achieve excellent outcomes. Additionally, the initiative will explore and address the challenges of transparency, accountability, and public reporting.
Build on the Senate’s reading of the Farewell Address. Utilize the Farewell Address as a focus for age and grade-appropriate educational opportunities. The content will be developed through crowdsourcing.
Schools and public institutions: Along with public reading select institutions will be provided with multi-media lesson plans/ curricula. (Multi year process)
Family oriented ceremony at home (Seder) Freedom's Feast is an interactive civics program that uses major holidays in our American calendar to raise the next generation of citizens.
Congressional reading: Make a framework for congressional discussion.
Media outlets: The Atlantic, breaking down the speech and addressing each section to assess where we are and what can be done.
Citizen organizations (Neighborhoods) : Discuss strategies to improve citizen participation in non politicized manner.
Clemson University Professor C. Bradley Thompson taught a class about the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. Examining it line by line, he talked about the “self-evident” truths enumerated by the Founding Fathers and explored what they may have intended by their word choices.
Project Gutenberg was started by Michael Hart in 1971 with the digitization of the United States Declaration of Independence.
Danielle Allen Our Declaration
Justice Clarence Thomas and Yales's Akhil Amar debate past, present, and future of our Constitution
45:30 about the Declaration
We will explore the impact of the constitution on our political ecosystem. How did the constitution shape our political ecosystem? Using the complexity lens, we put the political system under the microscope.
The Medical Case Presentation is an essential framework for a focused disciplined approach to addressing medical problems.
My Political Ecosystem provides easy access to your specific ecosystem from local to national as well as the tools to actively participate in our democracy.
Follow the Constitutional Convention With Social Media
You can follow the debate and join in with social media. Daily twitting #Myconstitution, Facebook, and blogging.