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Letters: Constitution Day is Philly's day

September 17, 2015

WE PHILADELPHIANS are rightly proud of our city's leading role in the creation of our country. Every Fourth of July, we celebrate American independence with patriotic feeling for our country, and also an extra measure of civic pride that this watershed event in world history took place here in our hometown. 

There is another date, however, that we should be commemorating and celebrating yet barely do: Sept. 17. This is the date in 1787 when the U.S. Constitution was signed, officially bringing together our separate confederated states into one united nation. 

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union . . ."

The Constitution is just as relevant today as it was in 1787. Americans look to it to define and interpret the rights we enjoy as citizens. Our Constitution was conceived and then wrought into life by committed patriots of varied backgrounds and creeds who reached historic compromises to produce it. An annual reminder of the compromises needed to create the Constitution and keep our system of government working would do current lawmakers well. As a member of Congress, I can attest to this firsthand.

Philadelphia is poised to seal its national identity as a nexus of innovation, cultural prestige and excellence in higher education. An emphasis on Constitution Day can reaffirm the fact that Philadelphia is just as well-suited to nurture historic advances now as it was when it fostered the Constitutional Convention. Just as a diverse array of delegates came together 228 years ago to develop a more perfect union out of a fledgling democracy, we can use Constitution Day to recognize that we, too, can make a concerted effort to assert our unique identity as a region and help to shape our nation's future. As someone who was born, raised and lives in Philadelphia, I will admit that we are sometimes too hard on our city. A citywide emphasis on Constitution Day every Sept. 17 through festivals, concerts, re-enactments and sporting events can serve to strengthen our civic pride. 

For many years, Massachusetts has celebrated Patriots Day, which marks the victories at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Every year on this day, Boston holds its famous Boston Marathon, the Red Sox host a day game at Fenway and numerous other events happen around the city. Aside from reminding citizens of the importance of these two battles, the day itself furthers the pride Bostonians feel toward their city. It's a fun day and has become known worldwide.

With all due respect to our neighbors to the north, Philadelphia played a far more significant role in our nation's founding. I also think, having lived in both cities, Philadelphia is better. We should make Constitution Day our day. 

Philadelphia can come alive on such a day, with events in every neighborhood where everyone is welcome to participate freely and equally. The day itself should be a reflection of the diverse, vibrant and bustling society made possible by the living document that is the Constitution. Not a somber event to passively reflect on a distant past, but a citywide celebration of what we each have to contribute to our promising future. Our central tenets of liberty and democracy can be expressed through free association, cultural exchange and inclusive activity as much as they can through dutiful service and community engagement.

With Constitution Day falling during the beautiful weather of mid-September, imagine the Phillies hosting a day game, or the Eagles playing at night, or both. With each Constitution Day our city can be a Constitutional Convention unto itself, reminding ourselves and the rest of the nation that we all have a stake in broadening the sphere of freedom and civic empowerment made possible by the founding document proudly formed here in our hometown.

We can start celebrating Constitution Day this year. On Sept. 17, the National Constitution Center will anchor the citywide festivities with special guests including Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, a naturalization ceremony and the launch of a new bipartisan online interactive Constitution. The commemorative events on Independence Mall can beckon all to more fully appreciate and exercise the freedoms made more possible by the Constitutional Convention - the "Second American Revolution" - held right here.

That is what every Constitution Day should and can be for Philadelphia.