First Amendment Rights Celebrated

When people praise America, they usually have a political bent behind their words. During times of crisis, leaders bring up the stars and stripes to people to rally behind their policies. After 9/11, it wasn't hard to find a bumper sticker or poster saying "united we stand" with a bold picture of the American flag.

Polarizing core American values distorted people into believing that suspending habeas corpus would capture terrorists, and tapping phones would keep people safe. It's rare when people talk about America's greatness without ulterior motives.

Last Saturday at The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage Martin Sosin premiered, "A Celebration of the First Amendment." This performance was a variety show combined with an awards ceremony all centered on the first amendment. An award was given to each portion of the first amendment. These included freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and right to petition the government.

It was strange seeing this event unfold because it really didn't seem like it had a purpose. The creator, producer, or actors, didn't benefit from the show. The vibe was a truly altruistic one. According to Santa Monica College Professor Frank Dawson, Martin Sosin put on the show because it was, "his own personal dream."

"Mr. Sosin also funds numerous art and public affairs programs in Southern California, and his deep belief in free expression led him to conceive tonight's show," a program note said. Sosin is a certified public accountant who doesn't personally benefit by praising America's greatness. He's not running for public office.

"[The show is] timely because we're in the midst for a race for president," Dawson said. He went on to say that Barack Obama running for president and the show itself "is all possible because of the Constitution."

Besides giving out awards at the show, performers recited landmark documents guaranteeing basic American rights. In a free form spoken word format, actors twisted their tongues around the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address Reciting legal jargon in a theatrical manner was challenging. The actors stumbled along at certain parts.

Reciting hallmark American documents and lauding the United States for no particular reason equated the show to a middle school pageant. It was strange seeing very accomplished scholars and talented actors participate in this event.

Concurrently, "A Celebration of the First Amendment" reflected the ideals that it was espousing in a digestible format. The First Amendment guarantees every American freedom of speech. There isn't a reason not to put on a show for no particular reason.

The show also gave away awards to very famous people that didn't attend. Most of the award recipients are dead. SMC Professor Frank Dawson accepted Jackie Robinson's Freedom of Assembly award.

Dawson said Sosin chose him because Jackie Robinson's relative dropped out before the show. "It was nice to hold it and accept it," Dawson said. "[Robinson] was one of my heroes from boyhood."

This show was important because American rights are deteriorating, Dawson said. "[The Constitution] has almost been bastardized. We've become an intolerant society."

A performance that highlights Constitutional ideals should remind people what it really means to be American, Dawson said. This election has especially polarized America. "The quest for a leader has brought to light extreme positions," Dawson said regarding people calling Barack Obama a terrorist. Colin Powell was correct when he said that this discourages a young Arab child to run for president, Dawson said. "Being an American is [not] an exclusive club."

The show ended with a performance of "This Land is Our Land." Many of the audience members started singing along. This consummated the jovial mood of the performance and what it really means to be American. Every citizen just wants to sing freely.