Constitution Day event brings debates, promotes voting

Susan Shelly answers a questions from one of the staff members
Susan Shelly answers a questions from one of the staff members

Voter registration sign-ups and information and two debates were all part of a Constitution Day event at Pierce College on Thursday, meant to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.

The first debate concerned the birthright citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment. On one side was Susan Shelley, a columnist for the L.A. Daily news, who argued in favor of birthright citizenship. Political science instructor Anthony Gabrielli took the opposing view, though it was announced that Gabrielli’s personal beliefs on the topic do not align with the stance he was asked to argue. Despite his contradicting views, Gabrielli agreed to debate on the side of abolishing birthright citizenship.

“Once I found the argument about citizenship and voting, it really didn’t bother me as much, because I could stay away from the heated arguments about illegal immigration,” Gabrielli said. “And I hate using this term ‘anchor babies,’ so I could really stay away from that argument. That’s not the road I wanted to go down – it’s really pandering.”

Shelley began the debate with a comment about the value of understanding a topic.

“I feel that sometimes people jump into topics without having the background and the information,” Shelley said. “It’s nothing they’re really understanding, because they don’t necessarily have the background.”

During his closing statements, Gabrielli described his strategy for the debate and his views on the country at large.

“I didn’t want to get into the racial aspect of it, or the illegal immigration aspect of it, because that’s more of a hot button topic and I wanted to have a serious debate about the constitution,” he said. “One of the things I’m passionate about is the 14th Amendment and the fact that we are the greatest country on the face of the planet because we are giving rights to ‘persons.’ All you have to do is be a person and you’re treated virtually the same as a citizen.”

Shelley, in her closing statement, spoke about the importance of Americans knowing and understanding the Constitution.  

“People should feel connected to their government,” Shelley said. “The constitution is a contract between the people of the United States and the government about how you choose to be governed.”

After the debate, Horacio Arroyo, an employee from the City of Los Angeles election division, discussed the importance of registering to vote and explained how citizens can register.

“We want to really encourage students to register to vote, there’s always so many left out after every election and we want to get in a little early and promote this as much as possible,” Arroyo said. “We’re also making this big push to register online, and now with the abundance of smartphones people can do that on the fly.”

Associated Students Organization volunteers manned voter registration booths, and several other city employees walked through the crowd handing out voter registration forms and answering questions.

“I think most people don’t understand that a lot of the improvements that can be made for their education, it’s not actually decided by the President of the United States, it’s decided by your local government,” Arroyo said. “If students want a better education or lower tuition, that might be something they can talk with their community college district about.”