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Carrying the constitution: In order to form a more perfect union

By Ariel Wittenberg

Section: Arts

October 23, 2009

<i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Everywhere I go, I carry my pocket Constitution.

It’s an eight and a half by 12 piece of paper with double sided text—one side is the Constitution proper, the other is the Bill of Rights and other Constitutional Amendments—that folds first into eighths and then into thirds in order to fit into one’s pocket.

I received my Constitution four years ago when my sophomore year American history teacher handed them out to the class saying, “In case you ever get arrested, you’ll know your rights.”

While I highly doubt my high school teacher thought of this exercise as anything more than a good-humored lesson in civic engagement, it was one I took to heart.

I’ve carried mine with me ever since, first in my actual pocket, and later in my change purse, attached to my keys and behind my Brandeis student I.D.

It stays in there for the most part, in my change purse, except when I take it out to dutifully tape the creases of the document where it has worn down and then torn. It only comes out again when the tape itself wears down too.

When I first received my Constitution, I was a proud carrier of the document—my first ever Facebook profile picture is of me posing, albeit in self-mockery, with the document. The photo was taken at a family dinner one Thanksgiving when, upon my brother mocking me for carrying the Constitution, my Aunt asked me to prove that I actually carried it.

And being a pocket Constitution carrier does often means being the butt of someone’s joke (“That’s weird,” said my suitemate upon hearing the subject of this piece). After proudly producing my pocket Constitution that Thanksgiving, my extended family proceeded to quiz me on the various amendments and articles, to see if I was carrying it out of need.

But my Constitution is more than just a cheat sheet.

I used to carry it to remind me of how unique it is to be living in a country that guaranteed me certain inalienable rights—a country in which government “of the people by the people and for the people” was a given.

While that is certainly still a consideration of mine, the polarization between political parties lately has given me a newfound love of the Constitution.

I find comfort in the idea that over 200 years ago, a few old white men could write a document that they had little faith would survive more than a few decades, which, in fact, lasted for centuries. Not only did it last for centuries, it has been revered for centuries—by all Americans.

Because no matter what side of the debate du jour you are on, in order to gain the political high ground, you need to have the Constitution on your side.

It is always the interpretation of the Constitution, not one’s reverence for the Constitution that is up for debate, and, if anything, each side must prove its dedication to this sacred writ.

So when I see the talking heads on the television (who, by the way, have the right to be there because of the very document I carry) discussing the latest reason why Obama is a fascist, or why Republicans are racist, I can regain some sanity and comfort in the thought that behind their outrageous hyperbolism is the question of whether the Founding Fathers would have supported a “public option,” and a reverence for our past.

Above all, the Constitution is, for me, the fabric that holds this nation together. It is our sacred common ground, even when it seems the Red and Blue states are about to rip apart at the seams. It’s a representation of our common identity as Americans, even if that often gets lost in the political debate.

That, and who knows when I’ll have to weasel my way out of a sticky situation with the law.

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