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Lights, camera, and action, they hope.
A group of Liberty Middle School eighth graders recently recited an abridged U.S. Constitution on camera as part of the Liberty Bill Project aimed at pushing a law through Congress to print a shortened version of the founding document on the back of $1 bills. Once the video is complete, students hope it becomes an instant YouTube sensation while bringing awareness to their civic cause, and, hopefully, catching the attention of lawmakers.
“For the kids, it’s truly learning the Constitution, but for me it’s a mixed thing,” said LMS history teacher Randy Wright, who heads up the Liberty Bill effort. “It’s not just a great civic project. I truly think, and I think the kids believe, too, that we should really have this on the back of $1 bills.”
On Jan. 8, students wearing matching purple Liberty Bill T-shirts marched to nearby Patrick Henry High School to record their video in Michelle Gary’s studio classroom. They had spent much of the year studying and memorizing the Constitution and were ready for prime time.
Angela Hurley, 13, said she has enjoyed learning about the Constitution and its relevance to day-to-day life as an American.
“It’s really important to our country but a lot of people don’t realize that today, and I realize that it does need to be put on the back of $1 bills,” she said.
“I’m really excited that I get to be a part of this because it means a lot to our country,” she added.
Hurley’s favorite section of the Constitution is Amendment 14, which defines citizenship and provides for equal protection and due process under the law “because it defines us as equal,” she said.
William Pimblett, 14, said the Liberty Bill project makes him feel like he’s helping people out there in the world know what they’re fighting for. Pimblett said his favorite part of the Constitution is the Preamble, because it’s the shortest and easiest to memorize, he begrudgingly admits. Still, Pimblett said he will take away from the project the satisfaction that he completed it and that he “helped people out there in the world.”
Upon arriving at Patrick Henry, students were grouped in front of a green screen, squirming into place and scrunching in shoulder-to-shoulder, with students in the front row charged with holding steady a banner print of the proposed dollar bill.
Before the cameras started rolling, Wright let his students know the meaning of what they were about to do.
“Remember, you’re standing on the shoulders of the giants who wrote this document and then fought for it and gave their lives in wars for it,” Wright said. “Don’t forget why you’re here.”
According to Wright, the Liberty Bill project has grown with each class of students.
Perhaps the genesis of the YouTube initiative came in 2001, when he asked his class to memorize an abridged version of the Bill of Rights.
“They did so well, that the following year, [I asked them to memorize] the whole constitution,” Wright said. “So each group of students has sort of inspired the next group of students, and me, to do more and do better.”
The Liberty Bill project began in 1997, when “there was no such thing as YouTube,” Wright recalled.
“I asked the students, ‘How would you like to get this on the back of a $1 bill?’ and they loved the idea,” Wright recalled. “They said, ‘How do we do it?’ I said, ‘I don’t really know but I think we’ll start by calling Congress and seeing if we can talk to somebody.”
The Liberty Bill group drew the attention of former U.S. Rep. Thomas Bliley Jr., who represented Virginia’s 7th District before incumbent Rep. Eric Cantor. At the urging of Virginia Del. Frank Hargrove, who Wright calls the “hero of this story,” Bliley introduced “The Liberty Dollar Bill Act” in Congress in 1999. The bill made it to a banking subcommittee hearing before stalling. When he took over the 7th District, Cantor re-introduced “The Liberty Bill Act” on several occasions. Each time, it stalled in subcommittee, most notably in 2001.
“The subcommittee hearing was huge, and then Enron collapsed and they went looking for what went wrong with Enron,” Wright said. “We went from the frontburner to the backburner. Then we disappeared.”
Wright added watching the Liberty Bill’s process in Congress has been as much a lesson in patience as it has been about government.
“If it ever happens, I guess one of the lessons would be if you stick with something long enough you might get what you want,” he said.
View multimedia coverage of the Liberty Middle School students here.