Last week in Congress, I raised my right hand and pledged to the best of my ability, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.
Little did I expect that reading the Constitution would be the next order of business as our communities continue to struggle through a painful economic recession that has unfairly harmed our neighborhoods and families.
But the new Republican majority in Congress received marching orders from their Tea Party base and a reading of the Constitution was their demand; that wish was granted by the Republican leadership.
The Constitution is a sacred document, and the reading of it is one that cannot be taken lightly. It is a living document, and the basis upon which our nation’s freedoms are borne.
Yet the version that was read aloud on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by both Republicans and Democrats alike was not the original document as written by our Founding Fathers. Passages that granted rights to some Americans, but denied those very same rights to other Americans were ignored in the public reading.
Instead, members of Congress read the Constitution in its current form, including all amendments.
For members of the Congressional Black Caucus especially, leaders who are known as the conscience of the Congress-this omission of our past led to great debate and concern.
For communities who struggle; for African Americans who were denied rights; for women who were denied equality-we understand that the Constitution is very much a living, breathing document and through hard work and labor, we worked to help draft a more perfect document and thus, a more perfect union.
To know where we are going as a nation, we have to know where we came from. And part of our history as Americans is the experience of struggle and of overcoming inequity. That history can never be papered over; for through hardship, we have grown and matured as a nation. Laws made slavery legal and denied women rights. We cannot ignore our past, no matter how painful or distasteful it may be.
We know that in the near future, the Republican leadership will work on the repeal of the Patients’ Right Act, the landmark health care reform legislation. They will seek to deny youngsters health insurance now covered on their family plans, and they will work to reverse course and (prevent) a breast cancer survivor from receiving coverage, because of (a) preexisting condition.
And, already arguments are being made that states should have the right to opt out of these new-found rights deserved by all Americans, if they so choose.
Central to the reading of the Constitution performed by my Republican colleagues was their pronouncements of the 10th Amendment. It reads “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Within our community, we understand full well how the 10th Amendment can be used to roll back rights and hurt people in need, rather than help them.
We will never allow the right to affordable health care, that our citizens deserve, to be taken away, or trampled upon.
The reading of the Constitution was an exercise in Democracy that all Americans should enjoy.
That very same Constitution, however, can lead to vigorous and lively debate, and disagreement.
But what our communities need is elected leaders who will fight passionately to strengthen our communities by finding ways to create jobs, and reverse the housing foreclosure epidemic which has hurt our neighborhoods. We need to support the medically uninsured and insured alike by putting the needs of patients over insurance companies’ profits.
The reading of the Constitution led to debate and theatrics, when what we need are results and action.
Karen Bass represents the 33rd Congressional District, which includes Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Culver City and was the 67th Speaker of the California Assembly.
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