by Traci Lawrence (“Terry Wylis” on FB group)
Precinct Chair OR-18, HD59 Chair, ExecComm

Couple of things on my mind today:

1. As a professional proofreader, I’ve noticed something: Thomas Jefferson really could have used a bullet point. They’ve been around forever, among scribes and typographers, though the actual term “bullet point list” didn’t show up until 1983.

2. If you’re like me and grew up in the 1970s with Schoolhouse Rock educational PSAs stuck between your Saturday morning cartoons on ABC, you know the Preamble to the Constitution by heart. In fact, you can sing most of it. [YouTube]

We the People…, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

U.S. Constitution

By now I’m sure you’re wondering exactly what bullet-point lists have to do with Thomas Jefferson, the Constitution, and Saturday morning cartoons. I promise there’s a method to the madness.

I hear Republicans cite the Constitution in much the same way I hear some folks quote the Bible—in sound bites. Mainly one sound bite—the Second Amendment. I hear Democrats…not really cite the Constitution much at all. Why? Do we somehow feel it’s not ours as well? Does it not represent our values, our policies, our platform?

I posit that it does. We’ve just been reading it wrong—because Jefferson worked only with commas (one would think he could have found a semicolon now and again). Even the catchy tune on the Schoolhouse Rock PSA doesn’t do it justice, because punctuation gets lost in syncopation.

The Preamble is, at its core, a bullet-point list laying out the purpose and function of the Constitution—what every article and amendment that follows does and should point to. Look what happens when it’s punctuated in a modern style:

We the People of the United States, in order to:
form a More Perfect Union
establish Justice
insure Domestic Tranquility
provide for the Common Defence
promote the General Welfare…
secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity,
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

A concise layout for the rest of the document, and a statement of what any amendment should cover. And when you look at each of those points as a platform plank, it seems to promote the very principles we as Democrats stand for: unity, justice and the rule of law, a common defense, the welfare of all our citizens (“general”), and the blessings (as well as the responsibilities) of liberty.

I pointed this out on Facebook the other day, to a stranger (we have a mutual friend) whose statements indicated he probably doesn’t share my political views. And the response I got was…laughter. I’m not sure if it was derisive or not, but it seemed a peculiar reaction from a likely Republican. Is this not believed collectively by Republicans? Is the Constitution nothing more than Free Speech and Bearing Arms?

More to my point, what is the Constitution in our collective minds, as Democrats and Liberal Independents? Do we consider it ours as well? Do we defend our platform and our values using the Constitution as a basis?

Universal health care (or the path to such), climate change solutions, affordable housing, racial justice, equitable taxation, term limits, safety and environmental regulations, consumer protections—these platform planks all fall under the headings of Domestic Tranquility and the General Welfare.

The right of peaceful protest, fair voting, and the concepts of publicly-funded elections and popular-vote electoral reflection fall under the Blessings of Liberty.

The rule of law Establishes Justice for all.

Every platform plank I can think of reflects one of the bullet points Jefferson laid out. Combined, these principles and policies work to form A More Perfect Union for all Americans. To paraphrase Langston Hughes’ great poem, the America of the Constitution really has never existed—and yet it must be.

I believe we need to start using the Constitution as a reference point in all our political discussions, as candidates or as everyday citizens. Instead of staying silent in the face of Second Amendment arguments, we should acknowledge but counter that argument with the rest of the Constitution—specifically, the Preamble. Where do our views and our policies fit in that framework? Let’s build that dream—because whatever else his faults, Jefferson penned a masterpiece. All it needed was a bullet point.

Traci Lawrence/”Terry Wylis” (FB group)

The fact that I’m an organizational nut led me to activity in the county party. 😊 It probably also landed me the Precinct Chair job, and the House 59 Chair job, and a spot on the Communications Committee for the party. But when I’m not up to my eyeballs in schedules and to-do lists, I write and occasionally publish gay romance stories (as “Terry Wylis”), crochet, sew, and proofread as a freelancer.

I pretty much identify as a Warren Democrat—progressive with a plan.

I believe in honesty, integrity, free agency, and sensible regulations of secular commerce and society, which should not be overridden by any religion—if your beliefs are narrower than secular rules and regulations, then you may make those choices for yourself—unless you are endangering society at large, at which point the society must by necessity prevail (if you’re going to do school or commerce outside your own enclave, then you should be vaccinated against disease to protect the larger society you are walking out into).