Freedom & voting
On the night of Bill Peduto's victory for the Democrat nomination for mayor of Pittsburgh, opponent Jack Wagner expressed dismay that such a low percentage of registered voters carried the day. It was a heartfelt and sad commentary, in no way diminishing Peduto's solid win.
“Not many people voted. I mean when you really look at a mayor's race in the City of Pittsburgh and you get 20,000 votes and you win? It's really unbelievable,” Wagner said.
Wagner, a Marine Corps veteran, earned the right to be disappointed. He was seriously wounded in a firefight in Vietnam in which seven members of his unit died fighting for the freedom of others, giving the oppressed a taste of what we have here.
Some argue that the decision to not vote is also a part of our freedom, but everybody knows that our democracy would be lost if no one voted, and that when only a few vote, our government is run by the few. It is this willingness of Americans to fight abroad for the liberty that is possible only through voting that sustains us at home.
It has always been this way. Pericles, in his fifth-century-B.C. funeral oration, praised the fallen soldiers of the Peloponnesian War for protecting the world's first democracy, a society that favored the many over the few and guaranteed the right of citizens to vote, which they did with gusto.
We all know the corrosive refrain that any individual's vote will not make a difference in how government is run, but that is just a convenient dodge for the disinterested, a refuge for those who mistakenly imagine that they have better things to do. Proof to the contrary is everywhere.
President Barack Obama was victorious because of those voters who had never before cast a ballot, never before exercised their right to vote. And those who call themselves members of the tea-party movement, after years of feeling disenfranchised, are helping to elect candidates across the land.
This year, while voting was not enthusiastically embraced on Election Day for the primary, Memorial Day festivities were a rollicking success just one week later. Small-town parades, led by veterans in uniforms from battles otherwise forgotten, followed by firetrucks and high school bands, are cherished American traditions.
And no American should go more than a year without visiting a military cemetery and pausing for taps. Those mournful notes help us reflect on the blessings made possible by the sacrifice of our fellow Americans.
Yet, they did not fall for just that. They did not lose lives and limbs and peace of mind for an annual parade or so that we can gather around the backyard grill or at a picnic shelter or even a graveyard at summer's start.
The honor we owe them is to embrace the very freedoms they have ensured, to savor every bit of the America for which they fought. And that means that we must vote.
Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (SabinoMistick@aol.com).