The most important thing you can do today isn’t picking up the dry cleaning or grabbing a gallon of milk at the store or even going to work—it’s voting. While America generally enjoys the kind of peace that can sometimes give people the feeling that they can stay home on Election Day, voting is required of those who want our representative democracy to last.
Many of us remember the Afghan presidential elections of 2014. The Taliban threatened violence on anyone who voted. Yet citizens stood in line for hours to cast their ballots in the first democratically held election in 13 years.
After voting, Afghans dipped their finger in ink. Many would proudly show off their inked fingers as badges of honor, refusing to cower in fear. Some would later have that finger cut off by the Taliban. Still, they showed up.
In the next election five years later, many of them would show up—scars and all—to vote again.
In countries throughout the world, the right to vote is at risk or nonexistent. People have faced threats, been maimed or have even died just to exercise it. And right here in America, women and Black people had to fight for years and withstand fierce opposition and violence to get that right—a right that too many of us take for granted. That’s why I have taught my grandchildren that the right to vote is among the most sacred rights Americans have.
It’s important that you vote—not only to ensure that your voice is heard, but to show your gratitude for all those who have shed their blood, lost their lives and sacrificed their fortunes so that you could live in a country where you can freely exercise this right.
Do it for those patriots—exhausted, hungry and wearing burlap bags on their feet because their shoes had worn out—who, despite the odds, bravely crossed the Delaware in that bitterly cold winter of 1776 to twice take the enemy by surprise in the battles of Trenton and Princeton. Their victories were a turning point in the war that gave the American soldiers the confidence that they could eventually triumph over tyranny.
Do it for those men on the battlefield at Gettysburg who lost their limbs and their lives so that Black men and women could be free and so this nation could remain one country, undivided, united under God.
Do it for all those mothers, sisters and daughters who were treated as second-class citizens and threatened and mocked as they marched for the same right to representative democracy as men.
Do it for the more than half-a-million Americans who died in two world wars to prevent tyranny from engulfing the world and crushing freedom under its boot.
Do it for the Black men and women in the 1960s who were intimidated, beaten and murdered but didn’t stop until they won the right for themselves and their children to be treated as equal to every other American.
Do it for those who fought in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and wars and conflicts in the jungles, deserts and lands across the globe.
Do it for those who today are separated from their families and serving at posts in the remotest regions of the world to protect our freedom and ensure peace in our world.
Do it for them all to repay them for what they have all done for you.
Even if you live in a voting district or state where your political point of view is in the minority, don’t stay home. Vote to make your voice heard—to show those who are elected that there are more than just the citizens who agree with them who still must be represented.
The debates are over and the campaigns have come to an end. Now it’s your turn. The choices America makes on Election Day will impact your life in the lives of those you love for years to come. Take control of that future and don’t skip your chance to make a difference.
Today, grab a friend or five, find your polling place, and do your part. Go vote.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times