Cover Story: A Historic Challenge
“As you can imagine, the National Constitution Center had no alums; it had nobody. It wasn’t as though you could just pick up a list of names and start making calls. I had to decide who was the audience, who would actually care about the Constitution,” she says, cryptically but characteristically refusing to talk about just who she decided that was.
That done, Specter turned to the organizations that her audience would belong to, and she started writing letters. She also realized that she already knew many of the people she was targeting.
But even with a high personal profile and years worth of connections, Specter didn’t find it easy.
“People then — and even now, here in Philadelphia — didn’t really understand what the Constitution Center does and what it means to America,” she says. “Most people think of it as an abstraction. And once you understand that people think of it as an abstraction, you can understand how difficult it is to raise money for it.”
Early fundraising was slow going, but the word eventually spread. And once the groundbreaking took place on Sept. 17, 2001, with former President Clinton on hand to ensure lots of publicity, things picked up.
“Until you put the shovels in the ground, you’re selling a dream, you’re selling a concept,” Seiter says. “We were still selling a dream, but now it looked like this was really going to happen.”
With the momentum building, the NCC staff instituted a number of educational programs around the country, including a hugely popular “I Signed the Constitution” campaign, which provided schools, libraries, and citizen groups with a packet of information about the Constitution, as well as a parchment that individuals signed to “reaffirm their belief in the founding document,” which were then sent back to the NCC to be archived. For their effort, the signers got “I Signed the Constitution” stickers.