At some point this July 4 weekend, someone with a microphone will give a speech. Thank you, Thomas Jefferson. Thank you, Founding Fathers. Thank you for the Declaration that guaranteed freedom for us all.
And with that, we once again will have demonstrated why America needs a little less fireworks and a little more civics.
Yes, the Declaration adopted on July 4, 1776, powerfully expressed an angry people’s determination to govern themselves. But it was a full 15 years later — Dec. 15, 1791 — before we adopted the Constitution’s First Amendment, 45 words that guarantee Americans the basic freedoms that define our unique way of life.
Now, can you name those freedoms? (Hint: There are 5. The answers are near the end. Don’t cheat.)
Stumped? You’re not alone. According to surveys by the First Amendment Center, only 1 in 25 Americans know all five.
Perhaps, beginning today, that’s about to change.
Introducing: “1 For All.”
Today, the largest public service advertising campaign ever staged on behalf of the First Amendment is being launched by thousands of newspapers, magazines and Web sites across America. Google’s in. YouTube, too. Parade, USA Weekend, the American Library Association, Yahoo News, Gawker, religious organizations, media companies, lawyers, educators, entertainers and many more. (Poynter is also participating.)
It was almost three years ago when the American Society of News Editors and Ken Paulson, president of the Newseum and the First Amendment Center — and then editor of USA Today — convened about 30 of us outside Chicago to discuss how to build public support for the First Amendment.
The meeting, funded by the McCormick Foundation, attracted journalists, educators, students, entertainers and others, who worried aloud about how well Americans could protect freedoms they knew so little about. We talked about the possibility of a national ad campaign that might actually burn into the public’s consciousness a slogan that reminded them how precious these freedoms are.
It worked for milk. For square hamburgers. For $200 sneakers. Why not the First Amendment?
Paulson and others took the group’s ideas and, in the months that followed, “1 For All” took shape. Now it’s ready — and you can learn more about it and the First Amendment at 1forall.us/.
The campaign is national; it is purposefully non-partisan. It aims to celebrate and educate. And it is huge.
In all, Paulson said, supporters of the campaign have pledged to run more than 200 million ad and other marketing impressions during the first two months of the campaign alone.
The ads, produced with the help of the Weber Shandwick agency and support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, celebrate people engaging in the everyday activities that are protected by the First Amendment. The campaign will provide educational materials, course content and study guides for teachers of grades 1 to 12, so that teachers can have what they need to better instruct young people about the First Amendment. And together with its Liberty Tree Initiative, “1 For All” will sponsor campus festivals celebrating the exploration of First Amendment freedoms.
How important is this campaign?
I’m reminded of my friend, Cristina Mendoza, who came to America from Cuba and never forgot what it was like to live there. “Americans take the free press for granted,” I recall her saying. “We should never take it for granted. Never.”
“I truly think that a free press is the cornerstone of any true democracy,” she said on another occasion. “And we do not realize how we are losing it.”
She knew, because she lived it, that freedoms can be taken away. She also knew that Americans, some in seats of power and some in their living rooms, routinely call for the press to be curbed, for demonstrators to be arrested, for artists to be banned, for phones to be tapped in the name of national interests.
Indeed, polls show more than half of all Americans would trade some of their basic freedoms for a greater degree of personal safety.
Maybe it’s because we’ve forgotten just what those freedoms are:
Freedom to express ourselves.
Freedom to worship as we choose.
Freedom to report and publish.
Freedom to assemble for whatever purpose, including protest.
Freedom to petition the government for change.
Paulson likes to remind his audiences, “It’s not a coincidence that the strongest, most dynamic, most creative and most ambitious nation in the history of the planet is also the most free.”
“1 For All” aims to make sure we remember that.