On Reading the Constitution Day (or Wisconsin Irony Day)

Wisconsin Constitution in Shadow. Photo by Callen Harty.

September 17, 2012

Dear Governor Walker,

I will be stopping by the Wisconsin Capitol again this afternoon as I have done almost every day since March of 2011 to sing four verses of “We Shall Overcome” in the rotunda.  But because last week you declared today “Read Your Constitution Day” I am also bringing a copy of the Bill of Rights to read after I sing, and I may break out in a rendition of the national anthem after that if I have any voice left.  I so appreciate the Constitutions of both the United States and Wisconsin that grant me the right to speak openly about my government and my feelings about it that I felt it would be appropriate to take advantage of your designated day to offer more than my usual song.

After I am done I plan on stopping by your office to give you the copy of the Bill of Rights from which I will read.  I am presuming in advance that despite living almost 50 of my 55 years in Wisconsin that I have still not accumulated enough wealth to be allowed into your office to see you in person, so I am writing this letter to thank you for your declaration to honor the Constitution.  I want to hand deliver it because my previous letters haven’t received any kind of serious response, unless you count automatically generated replies serious, so I can only guess that someone else is opening them and not passing them on to you.

I’ll let that go for now because the point of this letter is to thank you for your declaration.  In an age where all of your fellow Tea Party patriots firmly believe that the President of the United States is trying to overturn the Constitution and the rights it grants all of us I believe that a day to recognize the importance of the Constitution is a great idea.  While I don’t believe that President Obama intends to undo the foundation of our country I am concerned about certain things like indefinite detention and attempts to limit speech and peaceable assembly.

It is difficult to consider that either my President or my Governor would intentionally undermine or ignore the rights or the will of the people.  Still, I have concerns.  One of the reasons I wanted to give you a copy of the Bill of Rights is because I am afraid that perhaps you are only reading the Constitution as it was originally written and don’t understand that the Bill of Rights is actually considered part of the Constitution.  If you weren’t aware of it, it is really the first ten amendments to the Constitution (and there are many others after those first ten) and all of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights are valid and are legally considered part of the Constitution.

I know that you believe the Second Amendment is important because I have seen how you have paid special attention to it for your friends in the National Rifle Association (NRA).  They are incredibly lucky they have so much money that they can give to you to help raise your awareness.  I can only hope that my simple letter may help you realize that other parts of the Bill of Rights are equally important.  I feel bad that you didn’t know this and that somewhere in your years of educational pursuits you didn’t come across it.  When you read it (or have someone read it for you) you may be shocked to discover that in Wisconsin and in all of the United States citizens have the right of free speech.  We can legally protest our government, hold signs that mock the government, and more.  We have the right to gather in groups—as long as it’s peaceful—so that we can bring our concerns right to the heart of government.  And that’s all just in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, along with freedom of the press and prohibitions on the establishment of religion by governments and protections for those who want to practice their own religions.  It is no wonder we consider ourselves the greatest country in the world, as these are incredible promises.

Clearly, the founding fathers of Wisconsin agreed with the importance of these rights so much that they were enshrined in our own State Constitution.  As citizens of the great state of Wisconsin we have protections of these rights from both our state and federal governments.  As you know (I’m presuming again), a significant part your job, if not the most important, is to uphold the Constitution.  I’m sure that’s one of the reasons that you are encouraging all citizens to read it, so that we, too, can do our best to honor it.  I believe that I do that regularly when I show up at the Capitol to express my point of view through the free speech granted in both Constitutions under which I live and I am really glad to know that you appreciate that.

Thank you again for drawing attention to the Constitution and to the rights it guarantees.  It is too easy as a society for us to forget that we live under a government that was designed to be of, by, and for the people and that our leaders are employed by us.  This reminds us that it is not only our right, but our duty, to make sure the rights granted remain ours as long as this state and country shall endure.


Callen Harty

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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