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The Price of Freedom
By Meg Miner
Election season has all the usual unpleasantries in the air, including the standard reports that only about half of all eligible voters ever cast a ballot by the appointed day. We blame voters for being apathetic, and apathy is a hard impulse to resist, but that just seems like the easy way out. Blame the system and walk away. I think other blame gets passed around, though, too.
It would be interesting to know how many readers of this publication believe in the argument that the military fights for Americans' rights. I'm thinking of the kind of bumper sticker logic that reads, "Like your freedom? Thank a veteran."
The implied message is that the fate of our democracy rests on veterans' shoulders alone. Like most of our political speech, this kind of statement seems designed to shut down any honest discussion of the issues at hand. Maybe it's just me, but it also seems like a way for some citizens to push yet another burden off on veterans.
I just don't buy it! Our liberties come from the time-tested principles expressed in our founding documents and like any good idea, they stay relevant by frequently reminding ourselves what they feel like. We must take them out and try them on now and then.
We test their relevancy when we march for a cause, when we stand witness for each other in a courtroom, when we go toe-to-toe with fellow citizens in a public forum and then take at least a few minutes to stop and listen to each other's concerns. Every citizen who exercises their freedoms in this way and others is cumulatively acting to ensure our freedom.
To my mind, the reward for all this hard work comes when we exercise the right of casting a ballot. Our rights and responsibilities are endowed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Anyone who revels in their protection ought to be willing to pay attention to political arguments and also to show up on election day.
Veterans cannot and should not have to do the job of protecting everyone else alone; at some point people have to get off our coattails and pull their own share of the burden.
But like other citizens we veterans are not released from service once the job "over there" or in the voting booth is done. This has to be one of the most valuable contributions VVAW members make to our society: rather than an end to our responsibilities, we treat voting as part of a continuing process of civic engagement.
We pay attention when the votes are counted and afterwards. No matter which side takes control, we show our respect for democracy when we let our representatives know our expectations...and then keep an eye on them!
Voting is only a first step; holding every representative's feet to the fire, regardless of party affiliation, is our truly priceless contribution to our democratic ideals.
Meg Miner retired from the Air Force in 1995 and became a librarian in 2001.