This fall, By the People and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation gathered
a random sampling of Americans from across the country in 11 communities to discuss
what America's founding fathers meant by the phrase "life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Discussions focused on how the
definition of that symbolic phrase has changed over the last century and how it
influences different areas of our lives.
The discussions culminated in
a national town hall meeting at the historic House of Burgesses in Colonial Williamsburg,
to be broadcast on PBS.
The town hall meeting hosted by Jim Lehrer
convened for four days and brought together a diverse group of influential Americans who offered their views on America in the 21st Century.
exercise in civic engagement was organized by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions' By
the People in partnership with the Colonial
In the eleven local discussions, citizens from Albuquerque to Rochester,
Baton Rouge to Bowling Green discussed how religion and economic circumstances
play a role in our happiness and pondered the government's role in contemporary
local dialogues took place in the following communities on or about October
20, 2007. They were organized by a number of local PBS stations and community
- Albuquerque, NM: KNME
and Youth Development, Inc
Rouge, LA: Louisiana Public Broadcasting
- Bowling Green, OH: WBGU-PBS and
Bowling Green State University
OH: WVIZ/PBS Ideastream and Kent
- Denver, CO: Rocky
Mountain PBS and The Institute on the Common
Good, Regis University
- Houston, TX: KUHT-TV
and the Houston Public Library
City, MO: KCPT and Consensus
Haven, CT: CPTV and Gateway
- Omaha, NE: Nebraska
Educational Telecommunications (NET) and University
of Nebraska Public Policy Center
- Rochester, NY: WXXI
- Seattle, WA: KCTS
and Daniel J Evans School of Public Affairs,
University of Washington
National House of Burgesses Delegates Share Experiences Online
45 emerging leaders gathered in Williamsburg from Nov. 8-11 to renew the covenant of citizenship first articulated by America's founders. As they engaged in a series of thoughtful and provocative debates, the range of experiences and perspectives they represented, as well as the common ground they shared as citizens, became apparent. Many of our delegates chose to continue their conversations online:
"The guys who passed this stuff risked their necks, literally . . . A few folks noticed that I got emotional, and also referred to the House as sacred space, which I believe deeply but rarely mention."
-Craig Newmark, customer service rep and founder of craigslist.org
"Alas, there is no universal American experience. Our founders were a more nearly homogenous group, but the 2007 delegates to the House of Burgesses were shaped as much by their differences as by what we had in common."
-Betty Baye, Columnist, The Courier-Journal
"Each of us arrived with the thought, 'Why me?'"
-Bruce Ramsey, Columnist, The Seattle Times
"I took from the experience this: People don't deliberate very well. People, even sophisticated people like this group, don't have training or practice in deliberative process."
-Allison Hayward, Assistant Professor, George Mason University Law School
"There is no shortage of people here with passionate positions on everything from abortion to guns to healthcare to national defense--across the board, though, these challenging issues have been debated with respect for one another and an honest sense of listening."
- Major Ray Kimball, founding member Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
-Alonzo Washington, activist and comic book publisher, posted video and photos from his time in Williamsburg.