I loved Heidi Schreck’s “What the Constitution Means to Me” on Broadway, and this July 4, the Shout Out Saugerties festival players took time to ponder the Constitution in the Hudson Valley, in an afternoon of shared readings on Main Street.
Writer and stand-up comic Peter Vinogradov—who is from Canada and has just become a U.S. citizen himself— kicked off the readings. He talked about his swearing-in ceremony just days before. N.Y. State Supreme Court Justice Julian Schreibman told the new citizens that anyone who believes in the American Dream is already an American. “The father and his daughter who drowned were already Americans,” he said, referring to Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, who tried to cross into the U.S. only to be found face-down in the Rio Grande, the subjects of a photo that will forever remind us of this administration’s cruelty to people who’ve knocked at our door in hopes of escaping violence and poverty.
What Americans call the American dream is universal, actually. Activists who stormed the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, those who tried to bring on the Arab Spring, refugees from Syria and the Central American triangle—they all want what the Constitution describes as “justice.” “domestic tranquility,” “general welfare,” and “the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
But the democracy that the Constitution outlines is wholly dependent on respect for justice, general welfare and liberty from all sides of the political aisle. Three hundred miles from the tanks parading through Washington, we were in a celebratory mood on Independence Day, taking the opportunity to exercise our 1st Amendment rights. These are rights I no longer take for granted.