So many of us take for granted the freedoms we enjoy every day. We have the freedom to voice our opinions, to say that we agree or disagree with one another and our elected officials. We have the freedom to worship in the way of our choosing or to not worship at all.
Today, we have so many freedoms denied to citizens of other countries. It’s true that many of our constitutional rights have been infringed upon, sometimes by our politicians and sometimes by our law enforcement officials or others. However, we still have much to be thankful for.
We’re not living in some third-world country where martial law hangs like a guillotine above us at all times. We have clean water (and the right to protest whenever we find it’s not). We have opportunities to advance ourselves (even though we’ll be taxed more if we do). We have the right to put our children in public schools or private schools and to complain when we feel our children are not being educated to the standards we feel they should be.
Who made those freedoms possible for us to enjoy, to throw away or neglect? They are the ones who bled and are bleeding on foreign soil in order to stop those who would deprive us of those rights, of our freedom and our lives. They are the ones who wrested control from the British and who fought to defend us from every threat to our freedom since then. They are soldiers and patriots. Some soldiers were drafted in, others volunteered. All bled and suffered in defense of our lives and rights, and many still do.
But with the gift of freedom comes responsibility. It is our responsibility to fight to keep those rights, to protect them from abuse and corruption from within while our soldiers protect them from without. We have the responsibility to elect competent officials to represent us in our government, men and women who will strive to put into effect legislation meant not only to better us but also meant to preserve the rights other men and women died for. And we have the responsibility to remove from office anyone who does not meet those needs.
The most important right we have is the right to vote, and so many of us squander that right by not voting or by voting based on any matter other than whether a candidate qualifies for the position they are running for and whether they’ll effectively represent our opinions. Even I, regrettably, should pay closer attention to candidates. We mustn’t take our rights for granted. We mustn’t disregard them or abuse them or allow them to be taken away. Honor those who have fought and are fighting for us not only with pretty words and tears, eulogies offered up without conviction and in ignorance of the true sacrifices made. Thank them, yes, but also honor them by using your rights, by fighting for them just as hard as they did. Their battlefield may have been hundreds of miles away, but ours is in the voting halls, our towns, our work, our schools — it is the very ground we stand on.
We cannot bring back those who have fallen, but we can make sure their sacrifices were not in vain.
KAYLA COOK has lived in Ottawa since 2012. She can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.