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Declaration's U.S. Tour Aims to Inspire Youths

July 04, 2001|ANUJ GUPTA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Just in time for its 225th birthday, the document that led to the United States' creation is hitting the road for a nationwide tour aimed at inspiring political activism among America's youth--and Southern California will be one of its first stops.

Standing before the Jefferson Memorial on Tuesday, television and film producer Norman Lear kicked off the Declaration of Independence Road Trip, a project that will take an original July 4, 1776, print on a nationwide tour over the next four years. It will arrive at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on Sept. 14 for a four-month stay.

Lear purchased the print for $8.14 million last year at a Sotheby's online auction. In unveiling it Tuesday, he was joined by actor Morgan Freeman, actor-director Rob Reiner, Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas J. Ridge and a number of civic leaders and project organizers.

Calling the project "a contemporary experiment in civic renewal," Lear said the goal of the tour is "to inspire young people and . . . hopefully everyone, to participate in civic activism, to exercise their rights and, above all, to vote."

"The moment is right for something to help this nation rediscover and rejuvenate its great civic traditions," he said.

Lear's print is one of only 25 remaining "Dunlap broadsides" of the declaration produced by Philadelphia printer John Dunlap 225 years ago today, after the Continental Congress ratified Thomas Jefferson's document and formally asserted the United States' freedom from British colonial rule.

Representatives from the project's youth advisory board, dubbed the "Declaration Generation," highlighted the youth-oriented focus of the tour, which will feature an educational curriculum, multimedia exhibitions and live musical and dramatic acts.

Youth organizer Matt Hannigan, 22, said that many in his generation are opting "to volunteer in their communities rather than enter public service because [they] believe that [their] votes don't count and that public service is corrupt and dysfunctional."

"The message of the road trip is that . . . democracy must be learned by each generation through the act of participation in the political process," Hannigan said.

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