Patrick Henry, the Bill of Rights and Me

If there has been one bone of contention lately in my life, it is the Bill of Rights that I have compiled for Los Angeles City College. It has been at least  six months of research. It has been like pulling teeth trying to get input from students in regards to what they want to see in their own Bill of Rights.  I wanted it to be more of a collaborative effort but most of the time, it was just me and my computer.

During this time, I have asked myself “WWPHD? or What would Patrick Henry Do? He has been my inspiration as he gave us the most important Bill of Rights ever authored-the one that calls home the U.S. Constitution. After all, when he was writing his there was a lot more at stake. We were a brand new country. The Articles of Confederation had been an unmitigated disaster.  Farmers were being thrown in jail for not paying their taxes because they had been too busy fighting the Revolutionary War over taxes without representation. Only to have the government stick it to them upon their return. That was followed by Shay’s Rebellion and the Constitutional Convention. These were the conditions that Patrick Henry found himself in.

Once the Constitution was ratified, he was taken aback-where were the rights of the people?  People told him the Constitution was fine and told him to leave well enough alone. The man had to take on Federalists who were telling him that his Bill of Rights were unnecessary. After weren’t 3 enough? I mean we had the right of habeas corpus, no ex post facto laws and no bill attainder. I mean what more did the people want? Wasn’t that good enough? Patrick didn’t think so. So he sat down and put quill to paper and came up with the best ten laws since God himself authored the Ten Commandments.  But I wonder, did he go through the same thing I am going through? Did he at first try to get his fellow countrymen to contribute to the document or did he know such things are usually exercises in futility? Is that whole collaborative thing the more “girly” side of power?

On the 27th, I will stand before the Student Senate of California Community Colleges, which is the equivalent of Patrick Henry’s Congress, and I testify to the necessity and veracity of the Bill of Rights before them. Will Patrick Henry’s spirit infuse with mine on that day and will I be able to speak with as much conviction, honor and respect for liberty that he did on that fateful day in the Virginia Convention where he spoke these words:

 How were the congressional rights defined when the people of America united by a confederacy to defend their liberties and rights against the tyrannical attempts of Great Britain? The states were not then contented with implied reservation. No, Mr. Chairman. It was expressly declared in our Confederation that every right was retained by the states, respectively, which was not given up to the government of the United States. But there is no such thing here. You, therefore, by a natural and unavoidable implication, give up your rights to the general government.

Your own example furnishes an argument against it. If you give up these powers, without a bill of rights, you will exhibit the most absurd thing to mankind that ever the world saw — government that has abandoned all its powers — the powers of direct taxation, the sword, and the purse. You have disposed of them to Congress, without a bill of rights — without check, limitation, or control. And still you have checks and guards; still you keep barriers — pointed where? Pointed against your weakened, prostrated, enervated state government! You have a bill of rights to defend you against the state government, which is bereaved of all power, and yet you have none against Congress, though in full and exclusive possession of all power! You arm yourselves against the weak and defenceless, and expose yourselves naked to the armed and powerful. Is not this a conduct of unexampled absurdity? What barriers have you to oppose to this most strong, energetic government? To that government you have nothing to oppose. All your defence is given up. This is a real, actual defect. It must strike the mind of every gentleman.

He served as a governor, I am just a lowly student. Who am I to call upon his assistance in my endeavor to secure all rights for the students of the 112 community colleges? Of course, we are talking about 1.6 million people. That is a little over half the population of the entire United States when Patrick Henry was alive.  As someone tries to undermine Bill of Rights and strike out the political and religious portion of it that would protect students of varying faiths and ideologies, I wonder will I be the good girl and compromise just so we can all get along. Or will I fight back.  Well technically, I did win my first battle. I had made changes to my Bill of Rights, adding more religious and political protections. It was during this time that I gave it to someone who had been helpful on prior occasions in regards to feedback and what should be added. When I gave this person my updates, they sent me back their revisions. That is when I was told they were going to present this gutted version of it to our Senate, I was ten shades of livid. However, I realized part of this mess was my doing. I should have left well enough alone. Instead, being intoxicated by creating such a document, I wanted to add as many protections as I could. I started to become obsessed with it. Did Patrick have that same obsession? Did it drive him as much as it drove me? So I took steps to squash it completely. An earlier version had already been voted on and approved by our Senate. It had also been voted on and approved by the administration. My suggestion-we sack both updated versions and just keep the original version that had already passed. The Senate agreed that is what we would do. Woo hoo, another victory for me! I had saved my Bill of Rights.

Will I be able to save it at the state level though? We will see, the fight is not over yet. I just hope my Bill of Rights will endure until the end, the way Patrick’s has. Fighting for liberty is never easy but it is one heck of a ride.