Ashleigh Kenny, a VSU English major, has been at the center of a nationwide political controversy caused by a simple cotton shirt with a complex message: “RIP the U.S. Constitution.” Kenny’s message has been debated and misinterpreted on national television and the internet.
Kenny’s T-shirt fame started as an accident. When she went to Arrow Screenprinting with her design, she discovered that it was a lot cheaper to buy in bulk. True to her conservative spending beliefs, Kenny ordered extras for her friends and family. She wore it to a Valdosta Tea Party. Kenny presented her T-shirt to Congressman Jack Kingston outside of a Valdosta town hall meeting on Aug 3. A picture was taken and posted on his blog.
Enter media frenzy. Kenny appeared on Fox and Friends twenty days later.�
Almost immediately, the photo sparked controversy with bloggers responding negatively. The people who disagreed with the message because of different political views did not hurt Kenny; she said she welcomes the chance to learn from those who think differently. She is intentionally invoking the sacred first amendment right to free speech when she wears her shirt.
“RIP the U.S. Constitution” is a hyperbole intended to express her concern that the government has been taking too much power away from the people, power granted to the people by the constitution.
It was the vulgar speculation about Kenny’s personal life that she was unprepared to deal with after being thrust into the limelight.
“People were attacking me,” Kenny said. “Very very personal, hurtful attacks and it was so embarrassing for people to go back and read what had been written.”
Erik Erickson, of RedState.com wrote a blog entitled “Why Ashleigh Kenny Matters”. In this blog he compared Kenny’s struggle to that of other citizens who are proactive in their political stance. Erickson urged his readers to “remember Ashleigh Kenny. She is not alone. Like the rest of us here, she fights for freedom.”
Jack Kingston was questioned about the photo when he made an appearance on Bill Maher’s HBO series. Kingston has said that he was simply trying to support a young activist. After Kingston’s appearance on Bill Maher’s show, several news articles suggested that Kenny appeared on the show, but she did not. However, Kenny welcomes the opportunity to debate with Maher should it ever present itself.
Kenny’s spotlight led to an invitation to speak at Freedom Works ‘March on Washington’ on Sept. 9. Kenny accepted and spoke about freedom to over one million people. Kenny said that when she stood up in front of all of those people, she could not bring herself to deliver her prepared speech, so instead she spoke from the heart.
Kenny’s political involvement has only begun. She just appeared on Fox and Friends again for a follow up interview this past Sunday, Sept. 20. Kenny and her message are now displayed on a billboard. Kenny has also founded MatterNow, an organization she hopes will help inspire and assist more citizens to get involved. MatterNow is funded by the revenue from the thousands of T-shirts that Kenny has sold. The demand for the shirts has already crashed Kenny’s site twice, following each appearance on Fox and Friends. Kenny is scheduled to be filmed at VSU in October for a documentary by World News 5.
“I want to see my generation get off of Facebook and into the town halls,” said Kenny. “You know, you don’t have to be conservative to go to town hall. If you’re a liberal, go and ask questions. Understand. Don’t just criticize it.”