Thank you for using the White House’s online petitions platform to participate in your government.
That sentence alone defuses any credibility that these silly petitions might enjoy. There is just a little irony in Americans utilizing their Constitutional rights through a website that encourages participatory democracy and that is maintained by taxpayer dollars.
But just in case you slept through your American history and civics classes Carson follows up with a reminder that the sacrifice paid by Americans during the Civil War and beyond guarantees your right to petition your government.
Our founding fathers established the Constitution of the United States “in order to form a more perfect union” through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. They enshrined in that document the right to change our national government through the power of the ballot — a right that generations of Americans have fought to secure for all. But they did not provide a right to walk away from it. As President Abraham Lincoln explained in his first inaugural address in 1861, “in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual.” In the years that followed, more than 600,000 Americans died in a long and bloody civil war that vindicated the principle that the Constitution establishes a permanent union between the States. And shortly after the Civil War ended, the Supreme Court confirmed that “[t]he Constitution, in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States.”
For thirty two days, voices of veterans of the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars animated a bronze commemorative statue of Abraham Lincoln that has stood silently in Union Square Park since 1870.
The memories and feelings of ordinary Americans spoke through Lincoln as part of an outdoor public art installation by Krzysztof Wodiczko, an artist renowned for his large-scale light projections on architectural facades and monuments. Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection marked a return of sorts to Manhattan for the artist, whose last monumental work here was the influential and still often cited Homeless Project (1988).
“As our troops withdraw from Afghanistan, this commemorative statue, commissioned just a few years after the Civil War, again becomes a place for dialogue about war,” says Micaela Martegani, founding director of More Art. More Art, an eight-year-old organization devoted to bringing new and innovative works of art into public spaces in New York City, is the organizer of Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection.
In collaboration with many New York City veterans organizations, Wodiczko has engaged with dozens of veterans and their family members over the course of several months. He filmed fourteen of the veterans and their family members for the installation of Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection, recording conversations about their war experiences and the toll of duty on their family life. It was these points of views, presented in each person’s own words, voice, and gestures, that were projected via sound and light onto the figure of Lincoln.
For a nation that prides itself as the leader of the free world, I’ve always found it curious as to why this day is not set aside as a national holiday. On this day 150 years ago President Abraham Lincoln did what he promised he would do 100 days earlier by issuing his final Emancipation Proclamation. We can quibble about whether the proclamation ought to be understood narrowly as a military or moral document, but what we are always left with is the fact that it paved the way for the eventual freeing of 4 million slaves. That it did so can and should be celebrated by all Americans.
Click here for Eric Foner’s excellent Op-ed column on Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation in the New York Times.
Over the weekend I took some time to answer a few questions about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln as part of a forum for the journal Civil War History. The roundtable discussion that will come out of it will be published in the September 2013 issue. One of the questions focused on the movie’s connection to the sesquicentennial. I offered a few thoughts, but one thing I noted is that we shouldn’t ignore the fact that it was filmed in Richmond and Petersburg. It appears that both communities embraced the opportunity to host a film about Lincoln. Of course, we can attribute much of the enthusiasm to the financial benefits that both cities enjoyed, but it is worth acknowledging that in the former capital of the Confederacy there were no major protests undertaken re: the filming of a movie about Lincoln. Lincoln was welcomed in Richmond 150 years ago and it is nice to see that this is still the case.