Bill of Rights Day
My brief stint as an ACLU activist
December 21, 2006
She looked about 40, professionally dressed, clearly on a mission to take care of some business. I stood up and walked up to her, the pamphlet in my hand. "Hi, it's Bill of Rights Day," I said. "I'd like to give you a copy of the Bill of Rights."
She looked at me momentarily then walked on, as though I was trying to hand her a piece of rotten cheese. "No, no, no," she said. "I'm late for work."
So much for my stint as an activist for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
I was only a day or two into my work as temporary Maui Time calendar editor when I noticed the ACLU press release for Bill of Rights Day. Scheduled for Friday Dec. 15, it was part of a nationwide effort to celebrate the 215th anniversary of Bill of Rights.
I see the Bill of Rights as an important part of our heritage and culture—especially given the Bush Administration's love for power and war. It's what protects us against big government. Who doesn't like the Bill of Rights? Who doesn't enjoy our nation's right to a trial by jury, prohibition against unlawful search and seizure as well as cruel and unusual punishment, freedom of religion, expression, press and, yes, even the right to bear arms? More importantly, who doesn't want their own free copy?
The release said that on Friday ACLU activists would hand out copies of the Bill of Rights throughout the state, including Wailuku. The problem was the release didn't say where in Wailuku the handing-out was going to take place.
So I called the contact number on the release. Two days later ACLU headquarters on Oahu called me back.
"Thanks for volunteering your time to pass out flyers on Bill of Rights day," the voicemail message said. "I'll pass your number on to the Maui representative. Aloha."
At first I was disappointed. I didn't call to volunteer, just to find out when they were going to hand out copies of the Bill of Rights so I could list the event in the calendar section. But then I got to thinking: This could be interesting, and I really didn't have much planned for Dec 15 anyway.
That night Bobbie Best, a retired librarian who volunteers as the ACLU's Maui rep, called me. "I understand you would like to volunteer on the 15th," she said.
"Yes, I'd like help out," I said. "I'm a fan of the Bill of Rights."
"Good," she said. "Where in Wailuku would you like to meet?"
"Where do I want to meet?" I asked, incredulous. "Am I the only volunteer?"
"Yes, you're it," Best said.
Oh. "How does the county building sound?" I asked.
"Sure, at noon? See you then."
Still naive about the whole thing, I half expected to find people happy to get a free copy of the Bill of Rights. Yet out of the 40 or so people I accosted that day, just a few seemed actually excited about it.
"Oh yeah! The Bill of Rights," one man said.
Of the rest, most seemed to feel sorry for Best and I. It was as though they didn't care what we were there to do, but didn't want to say no when we handed them our pamphlet. A few people started reading it immediately, but most just seemed to glance around for the nearest trash can. At least a dozen actually started to run away when I approached them.
We did our work outside the county building for an hour, but still had a four-inch stack of Bills of Rights when we were done.
"Do you have a place to store these?" Best asked me shortly before we parted ways.
"Sure, I'll take them," I said, laughing to myself.
In case anyone's interested in a free copy of the Bill of Rights, the most historic of America's founding documents, I've still got the stack by my desk. Just come by our Wailuku office and ask. MTW
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