On Constitution Day, A Vision for Inclusion
At the American Civil Liberties Union, we consider Constitution Day on September 17 to be an important occasion, remembering the signing of the U.S. Constitution on that day in 1787. Beginning with the words, “We the people,” the Constitution is the foundation of our nation’s system of government. The Constitution establishes essential principles of checks and balances, separation of powers, peaceful transitions of power, due process, equal protection, and everything promised in the Bill of Rights, from freedom of speech and protest to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.
Unfortunately, many of these principles and promises that are so essential to our democracy are currently under attack. In some cases, they have never been fully realized in the first place. The work of the ACLU is to protect, defend, and advance civil rights and civil liberties for everyone. This means making the promises of the Constitution not just words on a piece of paper but real for everyone, not just for some.
A big part of our challenge is rooted in the history of our nation and the Constitution itself. Despite the inclusive language in our nation’s early days of “We the people”, “created equal”, and “liberty and justice for all,” the lived reality of our founding was anything but inclusive. The Constitution itself protected and upheld slavery. Rights were not honored for the indigenous people already here, and women were disenfranchised from the start. The central story of our nation’s history is the struggle to overcome these issues and to bring our reality closer to the inclusive values we have always proclaimed. The central question is which vision for our nation will ultimately prevail.
The threats to our democracy that we face today have taken a new form, but the underlying forces of white supremacy, patriarchy, violence and inequity are not new. The Constitution gives us powerful tools to protect the rights of all people and even to reform flaws rooted in the Constitution itself. We cannot afford to allow governmental checks and balances to break down, to let the integrity of our elections be destroyed, or to treat our nation’s leaders as above the law. More than ever, we need to protect an independent press, an independent judiciary, rights of protest, rights of privacy, separation of church and state, and freedoms not limited by race, gender, or any other aspect of human identity.
Constitution Day is a reminder that we all have a role to play in protecting our democracy and making it work better. ACLU of Colorado is committed to improving education about the Constitution, led by our new Community Education Manager, Jessica Howard. And in everything else we do, whether fighting mass incarceration, challenging the criminalization of poverty, protecting immigrant families, defending reproductive rights, seeking to end the death penalty, or resisting voter suppression, we are using the tools of the Constitution to fulfill the best of our nation’s history and overcome the worst.