In these times of war, when we call upon the young men and women of this great nation to give of themselves the ultimate sacrifice to preserve and to protect our freedoms here at home, I need to ask: How many of us appreciate those freedoms?
I am sure all of us do!
However, how many of us truly and fully exercise our rights?
Of the nations of this world, the United States is the freest of the free, yet most of us fail to appreciate what it is the young men and women of our armed forces are fighting and dying for. Is it merely a fight against tyranny and an oppressive dictatorship? Is it a battle of good and evil? Or is it a war on terrorism?
No matter what the name we give the conflict, the motive and the purpose remains the same. It is a struggle to assure each of us "certain inalienable rights." Yet day to day, we do not appreciate the rights and freedoms we have. Of the truly democratic nations on this earth, the United States consistently produces the lowest voter turnout. This is the most basic of our freedoms and the majority of us take it for granted.
In our political system, one in which the president was elected by barely 50 percent of the eligible voters in the 2000, some see world events spiraling out of control and they complain, they take to the streets and they protest "We demand change."
Yet nearly half of us chose to stay home on Election Day or we found ourselves too busy to take the time to help create that very change we demand. We are too busy to exercise our most relevant and basic freedom.
We have taken the very freedoms our young men and women are fighting for today and minimized them. We've taken them for granted not only on a national level as a free people, but even in our everyday lives. We see protesters marching in support of and against the war in Iraq. Both sides point out that "this demonstrates our freedom of speech and the free society in which we live."
But to put it in perspective, for every 20,000 demonstra-
tors only 10,000 took advantage of their basic and most coveted right -- the right to vote. Nearly half chose not to exercise the one freedom the rest of the world envies us for. They chose not to invoke the change in our own country with the freedom we are trying to instill in Iraq.
I find this both ironic and shameful.
Our freedoms are a double-edged sword. We have the freedom to use our voice to invoke change, but we also have the freedom to remain silent and hope for change. I am certain that our young fighting men and women are laying their lives on the line for us so we use our freedoms wisely. We use our God-given right to fight for and create change.
We say day after day "thank you" to our military forces overseas, but I believe we can do more than just say "thank you." I believe it is imperative that we demonstrate our thanks by exercising the freedoms they are dying for in order for us to keep those very freedoms.
This month, exercise the freedom to assemble and invoke change on all levels. You should not only vote for elected officials (when the time comes), but also use the voice that you have been given, that you have earned and that our forefathers have protected to invoke change in your day-to-day lives.
If you belong to a labor union, participate in it. If you are a member of a community council, be active in it. Become politically involved. Attend school board meetings, borough assembly meetings and city council meetings, and with your voice, exercise the freedom that hundreds of thousands of men and women have died to protect over the course of this nation's history and that millions have died trying to attain in foreign lands for thousands of years.
I honestly believe this is the thanks that is due our soldiers overseas. We, as a free people, exercising our rights, enjoying our freedoms, is the greatest tribute we can give to our fighting men and women. If our free nation chooses only to enjoy our rights and freedoms and not exercise them, we stand poised to lose here at home what we are fighting for so valiantly overseas.
Our fathers, mothers, sons and daughters are dying in the name of freedom. The people they are fighting for in foreign lands are dying for something they have never experienced. And we, here at home, take it for granted.
Let us not allow them to make their supreme sacrifice in vain. Do not merely enjoy your freedom, exercise it! Sacrifice one hour a month to attend your union meetings. Go to that council meeting you've never attended. See what your school board is up to. Attend a borough assembly meeting. Have a voice on the issues that affect us all. Be heard!
The brave young men and women of this country are dying so that you can do just that. One or two hours a month is a small sacrifice in comparison to the sacrifices being made for us
today on the battlefields of a land far away.
Mark Schams is a member of Paper Allied Chemical and Energy Workers Local 8-0369, the international union that represents Agrium employees in Kenai and British Petroleum employees in Prudhoe Bay. He is an "A" operator at Agrium and has live in Alaska since 1980 and on the Kenai Peninsula since 1985. This column is an excerpt from an editorial to be published next month in "The Equalizer," a local labor union newsletter. Readers may contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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