By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. It is a special time each year when we celebrate our nation’s birthday (this year is our 237th birthday) with fun, food, fireworks, family and friends.
But it should also be a time when we reflect on what it means to be free and to have democracy.
Thousands of Americans have given their lives for freedom and democracy – and not just for freedom and democracy in this country.
Americans have bled and died for freedom and democracy in places like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention to preserve freedom and democracy during World War II.
To be free is a precious gift, but it is also one that can be taken for granted.
In this country, we don’t have the oppression and poverty that exists in other places. Even in our own hemisphere, there is extreme suffering in places like Guatemala and oppression in countries like Cuba.
Because we don’t see these kinds of suffering on a daily basis here in our country, it can be easy to forget that, but for the grace of God, we could be the ones who could be thrown in prison for criticizing a government official.
That’s not to say that there aren’t people suffering in America. There are millions of Americans who live in poverty. But most of us are fortunate enough to be able to provide a roof over our heads and to put food on the table. That’s more than a lot of families in other countries can say.
So we are truly blessed to be Americans. We have opportunity in this country. We have a chance to get an education and, if we work hard enough, to make our dreams come true.
But we are also blessed because we have a voice in our government.
Even in 2013, there are countries around the world that still have old-fashioned monarchies or dictatorships. They may hold “elections” for public appearances sake, but these elections are not democratic. At most, voters in these countries might get to choose between two candidates of the same party.
We are fortunate that we get to pick our representatives to federal, state and local government. Our country has survived and become the world’s only superpower because the power of our government belongs to the people. Our government may be slow to respond sometimes, but it does eventually respond to the will of the people.
Our country has overcome injustices and hardships because our government responds and reshapes according to the will of the people. And that is exactly how our founding fathers intended it.
But that is also why it is so important that we take advantage of our voice and cast our ballots when elections are held. Not just because millions of Americans have sacrificed life and limb to give us that privilege, but because of the consequences of not casting our ballots and being heard.
How we vote determines what direction we will take as a country and as a state. How we vote can make the difference in whether or not a school gets funded or a road gets paved. It can mean the difference between success and failure in recruiting jobs and business.
So this Fourth of July, we should take time to be thankful that we live in a country where we have freedom and democracy. But we should also recognize that freedom and democracy are not just a privilege; they are also a responsibility.
I wish you and your family have a safe and happy Fourth of July. May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America!
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.