Bill of Rights Plaza
My name is Chris Bliss and I am the Executive Director of MyBillofRights.org, the Bill of Rights Monument Project.
For the last 20 years I’ve been a stand-up comedian, though I’m probably best known for my “Amazing Juggling Finale” video, which went viral with over 60,000,000 hits a few years back. 60,000,000 is an impressive number, or was until that vixen Susan Boyle came along. The experience was an incredible high. And yet it pales in comparison to the excitement I feel about the truly historic opportunity that has brought me to Austin: The Bill of Rights Plaza.
Since August of 2005, I have been working night and day to promote the freedoms and principles embodied in the Bill of Rights, through the installation of Bill of Rights displays in civic spaces across America. Why the Bill of Rights? Because, simply put, it is the single most powerful and successful legal assertion of individual rights and liberties ever written, forming the very core of our common ground and shared purpose as a people. Ideas matter, and great ideas make a great nation. Giving the Bill of Rights a tangible presence in our most prominent public spaces will help reinvigorate its many great ideas, as well as the nation they inspired.
I know: this project sounds like a stretch for a comedian/juggler. Funnily enough, it began as a comedy routine about the debate over Ten Commandments displays. My take was that instead of arguing whether to take those down, we should put the Bill of Rights up next to them, and let people comparison shop. Because the Bill of Rights gives you such an amazing deal. It tells you to speak freely, carry a gun, pursue happiness, and then presumes you are innocent, and I can’t find a religion that will match that offer!
The routine always got a good laugh. But in the aftermath of 9/11, with its rapid expansion of the national security apparatus and revelations about secret policies that broke faith with so many fundamental American principles, I didn’t find my little joke funny anymore. Beyond the obvious fear factor, I couldn’t understand how so many Americans could be so seemingly indifferent to the fate of the very foundation of our way of life. I kept asking myself: what can be done to inspire Americans to think more about their liberties?
As I always do with questions I can’t answer, I turned to Google. Repeated searches failed to find a single permanent display of the Bill of Rights. Many sleepless nights and loud conversations with friends and family culminated in my starting MyBillofRights.org (though we’re actually incorporated as the Foundation Foundation. The joke was on me with that one. Go ahead, google Foundation Foundation. It’s the internet equivalent of standing between two mirrors and staring down the wormhole into infinity).
On July 5, 2008 we dedicated our first Town Square display, and the nation’s first of any kind, in front of the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma, Iowa. We also passed our first State Capitol resolution in Arizona in 2006, and our second in Texas the following June. All three efforts were bipartisan efforts. At long last, here was something Americans across the spectrum could agree on!
Which brings me to Austin. I am thrilled to report that the State of Texas has approved the first national destination display of the Bill of Rights ever conceived: The Bill of Rights Plaza. This achievement is the result of three years working with the legislature, state agencies, and other stakeholders, and over $125,000 in project development.
Austin designer Holly Kincannon’s imaginative and elegant redesign of the existing plaza in front of the Texas Supreme Court, directly adjacent to the Capitol, takes the visitor through the genius of the Bill of Rights, with each amendment individually displayed. The construction estimate is $4.1 million, to be raised by MyBillofRights.org through private contributions.
$4.1 million sounds like a lot of money (okay, is a lot of money). But to put it in perspective, a single skybox at the new Cowboys Stadium runs $500,000. That’s 1.25 amendments per skybox, and you only get the skybox for one season. The Bill of Rights Plaza will be here for generations.
How can you, your families, your classrooms, your offices, your neighborhoods and organizations become involved in this lasting legacy for Texas and America? How can you join in the essential part the people of Texas must play to make this project a reality? Call me. Write me. Email me. And imagine a time in the near future when you can place your palm on an undeniable acknowledgment of our rights as Americans, written in stone.
With awareness of this birthright seemingly growing dimmer by the day, I can think of no better gift for future generations than a major permanent display spotlighting these founding principles. For as Thomas Jefferson so prophetically wrote: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”