CMJ: Because Nothing’s More Rock and Roll Than Reading the Constitution

10/21/2010 2:12 PM |

my daily constitution

Way back in 2002, as a sad, vast majority of the country seemed all too eager to abandon Constitutional freedoms for “safety,” security and revenge, artist Linda Pollack started My Daily Constitution, an informal reading/discussion series focused on the document itself, featuring everyday people alongside Constitutional experts. Well, the gig is still going, and Pollack is putting on two Daily Constitution readings this weekend, as a part of CMJ. (Saturday, 1-4pm at The National Underground; Sunday, 1-4pm at The Living Room). Readings of the Constitution at a music festival? I asked Pollack what the deal was…

So, let’s begin with a leading question… You began the Daily Constitution as a response to post-9/11 Bush Administration eagerness to consolidate power, a desire frequently at odds with the Constitution (see: Patriot Act). What was the most heartening thing that came about from your efforts to foreground the Constitution during such a dispiriting time? (And the most disheartening?)
The most heartening thing about this project… is how it’s allowed me to keep my sanity through engaging with very cool people committed to core values of democracy (as imperfect as it is) and open society. I find people who share their knowledge and insights with My Daily Constitution smart, engaging and generous. They get involved with the project out of a conviction that these dialogues need to happen. As a result MDC events are dynamic and lively. It’s been a great antidote to the the shutdown climate of these last years. The most disheartening… I really can’t think of a disheartening moment of the project. I’ll get back to you about that if anything comes to mind.

Now that the Democrats are in power, the Constitution is cited like the Bible at Tea Party rallies by anyone with a grievance against “big government.” How do you initiate (and foster) dialogue with a political movement that treats an Enlightenment-era document of legal and intellectual elegance—designed for interpretation(!)—as if it were the Original Word of God? (I suppose that’s also a leading question).
Funny isn’t it, how the Constitution is being paraded around, mired in ‘original intent’. We’ll, if you look at the historical context of the document, looking at the work of scholars such as Akhil Reed Amar, ‘original intent’ can be used to argue for quite a progressive interpretation. Underneath it all, what’s fueling the grandstanding is less about the Constitution and more about fear and anxiety. It’s essential to listen to others and understand the root causes of that fear and anxiety, and not dismiss it.

What’s your favorite part of the Constitution? (And your least? As in, “Why did they put it that way? Ugh.”)
My favorite part of the Constitution is the beginning… the “We”…”do” of the first sentence.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,provide for the common defense, 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.

“We . . . do”, is a declaration, an act of self invention, creating another reality, willing an idea into existence…Those guys were truly conceptual artists, the original performance artists!

My least favorite part is its ugliness. Where African-Americans were defined in the Constitution as 3/5 of a person for counting representation, and could not vote at all.

So what, exactly, is going down this weekend…
A Constitution reading, open for all, with live interpretation, synthesized with great music, creating new portals of entering an understanding and experiencing the document. Free Constitutions too.

Why the hell is this at CMJ? How’d that happen?
Well, Music and the words of the Constitution is a natural combination. I want to make this event available to all CMJ musicians. This is another opportunity to play so, any musicians out there who want to come out and and help create a synthesis of music and language in support of constitutional democracy, you are welcome!