Josh Wheeler, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, agrees with Bliss on that point. It took the center nearly 10 years to win approval for a First Amendment monument in Charlottesville, Va.a much-used community chalkboard and podium. "To finally dedicate the first major monument honoring the Bill of Rights is long overdue," Wheeler said. "Chris has created a monument that will remind and inspire generations to come."
Another drag on the fundraising may have been Bliss' decision to keep the monument simple. "Not a single contributor is mentioned," Bliss said. "I refused to put logos on it."
After the juggling video, Bliss did a gig at Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for ailing children. Newman's foundation gave him $50,000 for the memorial, and has since given more.
Comedians to the rescue
A turning point came this May with a Phoenix comedy festival mounted by Bliss and his friends in the comedy world, including Lewis Black, Tommy Smothers, Steven Wright and Dick Gregory. The event pulled in more than $110,000.
It was no surprise to Bliss that comedians would pull together for the monument. "The best comics are really interested in ideas," Bliss said. "And to a comic, the First Amendment is like what a rented Ferrari is to a Formula One driverwe abuse the hell out of it."
The Phoenix legal community has also supported the monument campaign, said David Bodney, managing partner of Steptoe & Johnson LLP's Phoenix office, "though there always could be more."
Bodney said the memorial has been "a labor of love for Chris," and a welcome unifying symbol "after a contentious election season, particularly in our state."
As the coffers grew closer to the $375,000 goal, Bliss finally could get serious about the design and location of the monument. "It faces the capitol, and the sun will set on it," Bliss said. The plaza hosts more than 20 other monumentsincluding, for comparison shoppers, a Ten Commandments display.
Kincannon Studios of Austin, Texas, designed the memorial, and each amendmenteven the usually ignored Third will have its moment in the sun, literally. The Third Amendment bars the government from quartering troops in homes without the consent of the ownernot a pressing problem these days.
The First and Second amendments will probably get the most attention, Bliss acknowledged, but he said enthusiastically that even the Third Amendment conveys an important message. "It reminds people that the Bill of Rights came from real-life experience," including British troops being billeted in colonial homes. "Every word of the Bill of Rights was in response to a real-life oppression. It wasn't an academic exercise."