Local 9-12 Project members discuss liberty, Constitution

May 15, 2010|By Janene Holzberg, Special to The Baltimore Sun

There was no specter of hot-button talk-show host Glenn Beck hovering over Wednesday's "meet-up" at the Elkridge Library. Nor was there talk of Democratic or Republican ideologies.

Instead, following a recitation of "The Pledge of Allegiance," two dozen local followers of Beck's nonpartisan "9-12 Project" came together to talk about taking America back to Sept. 12, 2001.

"Waking up the day after the twin towers fell is when we were all Americans and there was a U.S. flag flying on every car," said Kurt Saberg, facilitator of the Central Maryland 9-12 Project, which lists 246 online members at meetup.com.

"We want to focus on that unity and be one people again," he said.

Beck, a commentator for Fox News and host of a syndicated radio program, says on the912project.com that his movement is about "turning back to yourself and making yourself a better person … then we as a country will be better."

"He had a vision that people would come together in fellowship to further the ideas of liberty," said Saberg, a financial adviser to a nonprofit in Baltimore and former Elkridge resident. "The best part of the 9-12 Project, which is based on founding law, is that it's a nonpartisan way to figure out what we can all do to make things better," he said.

Beck's dramatic call to action has led people holding an array of opinions to travel from as far away as Frederick and Eldersburg to the local meetings, which have been held monthly in Elkridge since March 2009.

"Our members are from across the political spectrum, from libertarians and tea party activists to progressives," said Brian Boettcher of Columbia, who serves as the group's media contact. "It's an interesting amalgam that typifies the diversity of Howard County."

The group hopes to charter a bus to attend Beck's "Restoring Honor Rally" slated for Aug. 28 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a "nonpolitical, nonpartisan event to recognize our First Amendment rights and honor the service members who fight to protect those freedoms."

Saberg, who is 42 and now lives in Middle River, said he became a follower of Beck's before his popularity began its climb.

The name of the 9-12 Project is a word-play that stands not only for the date but for nine principles and 12 values that Beck says were distilled from 28 tenets mapped out by the country's founders. People who join are required to agree with only seven of the nine, according to the website.

Each of the principles is inspired by statements attributed to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. They include No. 1 ("America is good"); No. 6 ("I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results"); and No. 9 ("The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me").

The values — honesty, reverence, hope, thrift, humility, charity, sincerity, moderation, hard work, courage, personal responsibility and gratitude — also resonate with some who feel the country has been led far afield from the founders' original intent, members say.

Boettcher said he'd like to see the Central Maryland 9-12 project encourage the airing of political beliefs from across the spectrum.

"We should hear from people from the Libertarian, Constitution, Green, and Red parties — they're all Americans and they all have ideas," he told the gathering. "Groups like ours need to give them the opportunity to present those ideas."

Topics like health care reform, corporate bailouts and Wall Street have provided a lot of fodder for debate and spurred many to feel America needs to be buoyed up by a united citizenry, members say.

"There are a lot of different opinions in our group, and we welcome that," Saberg said. "When we disagree and can't find common ground, we go back to the country's founding document."

One of the first orders of the group's business was a discussion of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

"Some people say they were never taught about the Constitution, and some just want to brush up on it," Saberg said.

The group is considering holding an all-day seminar by the Center for Constitutional Studies in Bowie, modeled after the Frederick chapter's recent event that "mixed a lot of rich history into the teaching, making it seem like eight hours wasn't enough," he said.

John C. Lerch Jr. of Catonsville read the First Amendment aloud and discussion followed.

Jaron Rice of Columbia said he felt that the U.S. has been setting laws that are distant from the document's original intent, adding that the country's judiciary system "looks to case law instead of to the Constitution."

"We need to make sure we are voting for senators who are paying attention to the basic document," he added.

After identifying herself as an attorney, Lana Matovcik of Pasadena expressed skepticism about reversing a historical trend.

"We're stuck with 150 years' worth of precedents, and I don't know how we can get past that," she said.

Joseph Novotny, a first-time visitor who noted he'd been following the group online for a year, said the discussions are the beginning of "getting back to where we were," and that he planned to continue the conversation in his Howard County classroom.

"Academic battles are where it all starts — you don't have to pick up arms," said Novotny. "It's going to take a long time to get back [to where we once were], but we'll get there," he said.

While opinions flew on topics including immigration, term limits for all politicians having a minority of citizens pay the majority of taxes, most members agreed on a plan to produce a voter's guide for this year's elections, not only to assess candidates' platforms but to measure their knowledge of the Constitution.

"It's time to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, like our grandparents used to say," Saberg said. "We think that the answers to these difficult times lie in our country's founding document."

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