Friday, September 23, 2016

Convention of States Simulation at Colonial Williamsburg

On Friday, September 23, my husband and I drove down to Colonial Williamsburg for a very special opportunity. A historic opportunity that was a reflection on the men who made the colonial town of Williamsburg infamous. An event that George Washington, James Madison, and George Mason, in a sense, foresaw over 200 years ago at the Constitutional Convention. What did they kind of sort of foresee? The first ever simulation of the Article V Convention of States!

That week in September 2016, delegates (technically commissioners, because they were commissioned by their states, but in our minds us laypeople think "delegates," so I will call them that) from each of the 50 states, representing both political parties met in Colonial Williamsburg for 3 days to simulate a Convention of States as outlined in Article V of the Constitution.

Article V of the Constitution lays out the guidelines for proposing Constitutional amendments. After our Founding Fathers hammered out these details for the Congress to do, George Mason stood up and reminded his fellow delegates that it was not improbable that the federal government might one day become too big, lose sight of the Constitution and become tyrannical, taking power away from the states. (see short video at the link) His fellow delegates heartily concurred. Of course! Why did they not think of that? Immediately they set to work for a way for the people to initiate Constitutional amendments through the states.
 
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
- Article V, U.S. Constitution

Today we call this Convention of States.

Currently Convention of States (COS) is a grassroots effort across America. Practically our COS leaders organized a simulation so we all could see exactly what a Convention of States entails. I learned a lot, which I shared with others when I worked at a COS booth at the Occoquan Arts and Crafts festival the next day. It was empowering to learn more about Convention of States through a simulation.

Furthermore, the Convention of States simulation was held at the birthplace of American history. Patrick Henry and James Madison will even tell you so in this video!  Three of our leaders at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 hailed from Virginia. In fact, they even served as burgesses in Virginia's colonial capital of Williamsburg in the days before the American Revolution. More on them in a bit.

Delegates from all the 50 states representing both political parties, arrived at Colonial Williamsburg on September 21, 2016 to begin the first ever simulated Convention of States. I got to watch much of the action  on-line at the COS facebook page. After opening comments from Mark Meckler on Wednesday night, James Madison arrived with a highly motivating speech. On Friday morning the delegates were visited by Patrick Henry who stirred them to fiery passion before the day's simulation began. The delegates referenced both of these historic speakers throughout the day in their encouragement to one another to get things right.

On Thursday the delegates broke into committees to discuss the proposing of various amendments...

What do I have to do with any of this? I am an interested citizen. My original plan was to stay home watch the only portion that was thoroughly available via livestream...that of Friday's meeting of the delegates while they came together to hammer out and finesse the details of the proposed amendments. My blog readers know of my admiration and life time interest in our Founding Fathers and Colonial Williamsburg. That, coupled with being a concerned citizen of America, motivated me to become a volunteer with the Convention of States in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Thus, I received an invitation to attend a viewing party of the simulation at the Williamsburg Public Library with other COS volunteers. (I have to say, that library is one of the grandest public libraries I've ever seen. We met in the lovely auditorium where we watched the simulation on the big screen.)

And now I present to you...Friday's simulation!

Introducing Ken Ivy of Utah, who had been elected president of the simulated convention. In front of him are the secretary (your left) and the parliamentarian (your right). They did a fantastic job!

President, Secretary, Parliamentarian

What a thrill to watch the delegates in action. The roll call of states brought many a smile to my face, as various delegates heartily replied in ways that reminded me of the play, "1776." I'm sure they had a lot of fun with it too: "our delegation most assuredly responds as we had been commissioned with great enthusiasm..." (or some such fun wording as that!)

Delegates

Then to watch them hammer out details, not because they were being nit picky, but because they cared. They wanted to get the language right. They wanted clarity. They wanted focus. They wanted the federal government to clearly understand the intent so there would not be room for broad interpretation and error. Many times they reminded each other of what they had heard from James Madison and Patrick Henry (the interpreters who had earlier talked with them). Of course being a simulation, this was all practice, a dress rehearsal. A dress rehearsal where we all learned that this can work!

In fact, this has not been the first practice run, although it was the first one at the national level. I had learned from the Florida delegation that they had attended an earlier simulation (which I think was much smaller) at Patrick Henry College. They were so impressed, they brought the simulation home to Florida for them to rehearse there. All of these delegates took this seriously!

You can see Friday's entire 7 hour simulation for yourself here: Rick Green, Mark Meckler, and others provided commentary at various points throughout the day. Especially check the opening sequence because that will encapsulate what is going to happen (and hopefully draw you in)!

Throughout the event I was busy on my smart phone. Was I bored? Absolutely not! I was tweeting the event as well as following up on facebook (my tweets go there too) to reply to my friends' comments. Some of them were watching too! Also when an unfamiliar (to me) term was mentioned on the floor by one of the delegates (about 2 or 3 times), I did a quick google search which allowed me to quickly comprehend better and be more engaged. I also took many notes to help me better understand this. I am a student. I am an expert at nothing but I am always happy to point others to the resources that have helped me. For more information on this check www.conventionofstates.com.


What were the results? In a day and a half, the delegates from all 50 states and both political parties proposed several amendments. Even though there was debate, there was no fighting. (As Mark Meckler said in the previously linked video, it's about being nice. Spirited debate is worthy and can be done without acrimony.) Even our Founding Fathers debated as they hammered out details to the Constitution. That is because they cared and wanted to get it right. They wanted this Great Experiment of self-governance to work. And it does work! This simulation proved that! Of course in real life they would need more time than a day and a half, but these delegates accomplished a lot in a day and a half.

For me, part of the life of this was this historic moment being held on Colonial Williamsburg property. I was glad to take advantage of that by attending this viewing party 2 blocks away from the historic area. So that meant I had to take advantage of the opportunity to reflect on this amazing bit of history by walking in the footsteps of George Washington, James Madison and George Mason, who had all been burgesses in Williamsburg before the American Revolution. In fact, in June of 1776 George Mason and James Madison wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights. When completed, a draft was immediately carried by post to Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia, where he was sitting down to pen the Declaration of Independence. Being a Virginian, he kept up with the progress of the writing of the Virginia Declaration of Rights back home. (I have their documents linked.) If you read them, you will see the familiarity in their ideas...because our Founding Fathers were well educated, had all had a classical education (even at the grammar level ie: Benjamin Franklin and George Washington), read the "Great Books" and fully understood these ideas. They were basically all on the same page coming into these conventions. As a team they hammered out details from an old idea for a new government...representative government. During the Constitutional Convention, the Founding Fathers took ideas that had been discussed by great thinkers for years and penned them into action for the first time...the Great Experiment of self-governance. As Benjamin Franklin said, "could we keep it?" (And then George Mason carried on these ideas by insisting on the Bill of Rights.)

Could we keep it, indeed? Like many others, I'd much rather live my life contentedly without bothering about government. Can't we just be happy and have fun? However this is the task the Founding Fathers put before us. Not only our task, but our responsibility...and our right. Neither did they do what they really wanted to do. They really wanted to just stay home and take care of their personal business affairs and be with their family. However they served as burgesses, fought a revolution, attended conventions, and served in government because it was their duty. They weren't i it for a career, but for a season, to serve their fellow citizen. They knew from past experience that at any moment their rights could slip away. They had to be ever vigilant. Self-governance doesn't just happen on its own. We too must remain ever vigilant.


That is the reason for this provision in Article V of the Constitution, for the people to call upon the states to call a Convention of States for constitutional amendments to reign in big government. We know full well Congress won't do it when they become too powerful, so the people must step in. It is indeed Constitutional to do so. The Founding Fathers expected future generations to use this legal means to bring power back to the states. Even the Founding Fathers didn't want the federal government to be too big. That is why they started with the Articles of Confederation, which had an enormously weak federal government. However it was so weak that there were too many problems. They conceded that the federal government needed more power than the Articles of Confederation gave to them, but they were very careful not to give the federal government more than they needed to be effective.

Under the Constitution, the federal government's job is:
  • Protect the nation (through the military)
  • Interstate Commerce
  • Immigration
  • Money
  • Treaties
  • Postal System
  • Patents 

Under the Constitution, the states job is:
  • Education
  • Social Welfare
  • All commerce and commercial products
  • Food
  • Farming
  • ...and basically whatever power the federal government was not given.

As mentioned, I longed to walk in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers. When the delegates broke for lunch, my husband and I walked to the historic area to await my friend who apprentices at one of the trades. My good friend and I had previously made arrangements to meet for lunch. It was a lovely 2 block walk near the College of William and Mary into the historic area. While awaiting her arrival, we discussed and reflected on all we saw and heard, and how that related to our Founding Fathers. Not far from us was Thomas Jefferson about to pen his famous document (with my kids on a 2008 visit).

Thomas Jefferson at Merchant's Square

Oh the history of this area! I love it!

After lunch we returned to view the rest of the simulation. When the simulation ended, Ken Ivory...

Ken Ivory

...and Mark Meckler summed up the weeks' events.

Mark Meckler

The auditorium came to life as we all clapped and cheered this historic event along with the delegates on the screen, but I think we were louder. ;)

(sigh)

Afterwards my husband and I returned to the historic area. It was time to walk in those footsteps of the Founding Fathers...and meet and talk with them too!

First we saw Thomas Jefferson...

Thomas Jefferson on Horse 1 (1)

...educated at the College of William and  Mary, studied law under George Wythe, served as burgess and later governor of Virginia...all in this historic town.  He also wrote many a letter to James Madison while he was at the Constitutional Convention, of which Jefferson reminded me! After kindly inquiring as to the whereabouts of my children (alas, busy with college and work) his horse took off! (They have a mind of their own.)

Thomas Jefferson on Horse 2

Later we saw James Madison (on the right) and fellow burgess Mann Page (on the left). (Photos from previous visit since we were standing too close and looking into the sun. lol) 

Mann Page James Madison

Mann Page also kindly inquired after the whereabouts of our children (we used to visit monthly).

Mann Page James  Madison

On past visits we got to talk to George Mason, who was also a burgess here in Williamsburg. In fact it was here that he wrote the Virginia Declaration of  Rights. Madison helped.

100_2931-George Mason

On other visits we've also had opportunity to visit with George Washington (on the right, Mann Page, again on the left). Washington was a burgess in Williamsburg. Also he reported to the royal governor here in Williamsburg during the days of the French and Indian War. And then much later, in 1781, General Washington's and Rochambeau's troops (American and French) met after a long trek from the north to prepare for the seige on Yorktown where Cornwallis was cornered. This event effectively ended the American Revolution in that it was the last major battle of the revolution. This area has soooo much history of our country's beginnings.

Mann Page George Washington

Yes, our simulated Convention of States was most appropriately held in Colonial Williamsburg, where many of the Founders began public service as burgesses. From 1738 to 1766, "the House of Burgesses began to develop that broad range and depth of political talent that Virginia would exhibit in so much abundance during the Revolutionary era...a number of men of impressive learning and legislative ability." (Political Life in Eighteenth-Century Virginia, Jack P. Greene, pages 36 and 38)

(sigh) I love how all this history comes together. While walking around town I was wearing my Convention of States pin. One of the guests noticed so he asked me where I got it. I explained that I volunteer with COS. He said that he supported it but supposed that not much was happening with it. My eyes lit up as I told him about the simulation that had just ended. He was excited so I told him how he too could sign the petition to urge his senator to call for a Convention of States. Then I told him how he too could join, and get a pin like mine! Would you like to join us in our grassroots effort!

COS pin

I learned so much at the simulation that I felt far more articulate than ever when I helped at a Convention of States booth the next day in historic Occoquan, Virginia. Stay tuned!
 

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