Local leaders, politicians debate Constitution’s impact and merit

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September 30, 2010

10:20 PM

The Constitutional Conversations series kicked off at the Williamsburg Regional Library Monday.

The inaugural event brought out residents of the City of Williamsburg, ranging from young children to retirees, all of whom came to see local community figures talk about the role of the Constitution and its application to modern society.

Williamsburg Mayor Clyde Haulman, Rep. Rob Whitman, Dean of the Marshall Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary Davison Douglas, Sen. John Miller, Del. Brenda Pogge and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation President Colin Campbell all took part in the non-partisan conversation.
Although each speaker addressed different aspects of the U.S. government, there was one concurrent theme — political participation.

“I believe that we have the most extraordinary constitutional document in the world, but it will not be upheld unless there is citizen participation,” Douglas said.

Campbell also stressed the importance of citizen political participation.

“I hope that Williamsburg can become the national center for civil discourse,” Campbell said of Williamsburg’s efforts to bring government education to area schools as well to as the community at large.

Another hot topic of Monday’s talk was the lack of governmental coverage in today’s popular and accessible media.

“We have moved away from coverage of news to coverage of celebrity … We are no longer as much interested in what we need to know as what we want to know,” Miller said. “My fear is that the next generation is not as informed in the issues that we face.”

Monday’s community conversation was the first in a series of smaller group conversations that will take place in the Williamsburg Regional Library.

Constitutional Conversations, a non-partisan community-based education project started this year by Julie Silverbrook J.D. ’12, aims to educate citizens about their civic rights and duties through discussion. The program’s ultimate goal is to promote informed participation in civic life, while emphasizing the difference a single citizen can have on policy-making at all levels of government.

In previous years, under a program called the Hampton Roads School Project, law students visited local schools to teach students about government.

“Because of constraints involving public school curriculum and standardized testing, when I took over the programs we decided to take it out of the schools and make [the program] for all ages,” Silverbrook said.

Workshops discussing the Constitution and government will occur once a month for elementary, middle and high school-aged children, as well as for adults. Current College law school students will conduct all workshops.

Adult, high school and middle school student workshops will be discussion based, while the elementary-aged workshops will teach kids what a constitution is and how it works. The program will culminate in a Constitutional Convention reenactment in May.

“Our main goal [with the Constitution Conversations program is] to inspire citizens to talk about issues that are deeply relevant to them. Everyone is able to have an impact on the issues,” Silverbrook said.

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