Bill of Rights Day was born in strife: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the order creating it on Dec. 15, 1941 – just days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It was Roosevelt’s way of marking the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
As national “days” go, Bill of Rights Day isn’t a huge deal for most people; it doesn’t occasion parades, or even discounts by big retailers. But someone who thinks we shouldn’t take it for granted is Joan Bauer.
The Pittsburgh-based poet is a long-time member – and former board member – of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. This year, she’s reviving her occasional series of poetry readings marking Bill of Rights Day.
The Bill of Rights covers a lot of hotly contested ground, from gun ownership and trial by jury to state’s rights. Bauer’s event focuses on the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and the press.
“That’s especially important in our time when there have been efforts to suggest that the press is in some sense the enemy of the people, or to suggest that there should be limitations on free assembly,” she says.
At Thursday's Bill of Rights Day Reading, Bauer and co-host Emily Mohn-Slate welcome some of Pittsburgh’s top poets to Bloomfield’s White Whale Bookstore. Readers include Cameron Barnett, Sheila L. Carter-Jones, Malcolm Friend, Celeste Gainey, Joy Katz, Adriana E. Ramirez, Mike Schneider, Justin Vicari, Arlene Weiner and Don Wentworth.
The suggested donation is $5, and the reading benefits the ACLU.