We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident
The inspiration for this piece came while checking out at the Creswell Bi-Mart last week. There was an older man without a facemask on, bellowing his displeasure at Governor Brown’s requiring citizens to wear facemasks in hard-hit Oregon counties. He said the “The whole thing is BS and unconstitutional: to anyone who cared to listen. My first impulse was wanting to retrieve the copy of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence I carry in my car. The second, gentler impulse not to react, prevailed, and I thought that this poor man was struggling with the Coronavirus pandemic the same as all of us.
This piece is my third impulse.
Zucchini Races and The United States Constitution
Three summers ago, I sat in my friend, Scott’s booth at the San Juan County Fair in Friday Harbor, Washington. The fair is full of produce displays, horse shows, animal judging, cotton candy, chicken races, and the biggest draw of all, at five o’clock every night, The Zucchini 500, a side by side downhill drag race by “driverless cars” made from, what else: Zucchinis. And, though kids dominate the entrants, many adults enter cars and take the competition very seriously, with a few engineers perfecting innovative designs throughout the year to become the Zucchini 500 Champion.
There are two classes of cars: stock; cars whose main body is a full zucchini, and custom; cars that have some form of zucchini worked into the construction. Being fast is one goal, with friction-reducing wheels and aerodynamic designs dominating. But fun is also good, especially with MC Scott presiding like Don Rickles at a comedy roast. I entered a car one year that ran down the ramp for about six feet and then stopped; flat out stopped. Instantly, Scott branded that The Blum Line, and for the next few days, the main goal for all racers was to surpass The Blum Line.
Each day, Scott and Lynnette “Zucchini Queen” staff the “Zucchini 500” booth, checking in entries for the evening’s race. Scott Bell, commercial painter, musician, and elder statesman of all things San Juan Island. He isn’t the mayor of Friday Harbor and doesn’t hold political office, but he is a central figure in the island community. He might as well be the King for all the people he knows and the history of San Juan Island that he possesses.
Scott and I met while waiting for the ferry forty years ago when he played in the legendary rock and roll band, The Ducks, whose motto was, “Making The Easy Impossible.” We struck up a conversation about the guitars we were carrying and have been friends ever since. When she met me for the first time, one of his bandmates said, “I heard Scott likes you, and Scott doesn’t like anyone.” Forty years later, whenever we get together, the conversation goes in a lot of directions. Scott can talk; Lord have mercy, Scott can talk about anything and everything. His persona is a bit of a tough guy. Still, in truth, he is loving and sympathetic, especially with young people, so all day, race entrants and other friends stop by the booth to say hi, share some stories, and register their car for the evening race.
And so it was, we stat talking when a kind of shy man in his late twenties stopped into the booth holding handful of campaign leaflets and handed one to each of us. We each took the leaflets politely, and a quick read of the bullet points warned us that Christianity and gun ownership were under attack! I asked the young candidate for County Commissioner if he might tell me specific examples of where Christianity was under attack. The aspiring politician begged off and said, “Hey, I’m just here for the fair. I don’t want to talk about politics.” I said, “Apparently, that’s not accurate because you handed me your campaign leaflet?” I continued, might you tell me exactly where Christianity is under attack?” but once again, the young did not want to “get bogged down in specifics.” So, I said, “Okay, let’s move on from that,” said I, “What about gun ownership? I know there is a lot of talk about gun rights, but, to the best of my knowledge, not a single gun has been taken away from anybody; pretty much, ever, so might you give examples of where gun rights have been taken away?” Again, the candidate for County Commissioner said he just wanted to enjoy the fair.”
At this point, I noticed Scott was uncharacteristically silent as I pressed asked the hopeful candidate, “Have you read the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence?” To this, he timidly replied, “Well, parts of it” and me, being the teacherly type, said, “Well, it’s your lucky day because I have a copy of both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in my car, (It’s true, and yes, I know that makes me weird). I’d be happy to go get them, and we can have a look together.” This was too much for the future head of state, and he begged off one last time, saying he was just out for a little fun.
And I said, “Yes, me too, then said what I have many times to other friends and family when they bemoan something is unconstitutional or that some member of government should do this or that, “Look, I don’t know exactly why you’re running for office. I don’t know if you believe in Communism or Capitalism, but I do know this, “If you want to represent the people of this county, state, or nation in any capacity, you should read and understand the rules by which we are governed. You need to know the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and every amendment to it, because holding office is a responsibility and a privilege. I think you shouldn’t have that privilege until you’ve at least read the foundational documents that form our laws and customs.” The poor kid was flustered, but he did agree to read the documents, and we amicably shook hands before he left the booth.
When he left, Scott finally broke his silence. “You know, you were right to challenge him that way, and you were fair, but if you knew that poor kid, you would have let it go. It turns out that the kid has had a rough go of it in life, and his chances of actually getting elected were pretty slim (He did not win). And I felt like had I known more about him I might have been more gentle, but I stand by what I said: The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution are the bedrock upon which the United States was formed and exists today. Both documents are remarkable for their philosophical and pragmatic depth, and they should be read and understood by every citizen. New citizens to the US have to pass a test on it before they get their citizenship, but unfortunately, those of us born here get citizenship without having to show their knowledge of the documents. In theory, we all take a government class in high school, but most of us don’t remember much from that.
And for anyone who wants copies of either or both documents, I’ll be happy to provide you them, and we could even meet for coffee and discuss them, but one caveat, “No cherry-picking!” You can’t just pick the parts you like and throw out the rest. And if you do that and decide to run for office, I’ll be happy to write some speeches for you, but honestly, if you read the two documents, you won’t need me. In my spare time, I can get back to designing a custom zucchini car that will spare me from the comedic tongue of the awesome Scott Bell if I can finally surpass The Blum Line.