My fellow Americans, Election Day is almost upon us and I would just like to take a moment to stress how important it is for you to participate and vote. This is not an appeal to vote for a particular candidate, but an appeal to be involved in something as special and monumental as voting in a free society.
Let me get a bit philosophical here. Since the beginning of time, mankind has sought to control every aspect of the world around it. We have built mighty structures to keep out the elements and facilities to harness the power of those elements for our own ends. We are constantly seeking new ways to bend and shape nature to our will. And we have been increasingly successful at this, from the discovery of fire to the discovery of the atom and nuclear power. But the one thing that has, for the greater part of history, been beyond our control is the relationships we have with each other in a society. For most of our time on this world, with a few exceptions, people have been ruled by others they did not choose and governed without consent. Kings, conquerors, warlords, divine mandate, might makes right; these are the rules around which civilizations have been structured since time immemorial. Then something miraculous happened: the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the ideas of universal suffrage and the Rights of Man. This was not long ago, just over 200 years. Since then the steady march of democracy has been relentless.
The Right to Vote, the principle that people, all people, have a right to choose what laws and individuals govern them is not something that should be taken for granted. It is something that people have fought and died for, and still do today. From the Barricades of 1789 to Tahrir Square, democracy is a prize dearly won and paid for in blood and tears. When people ask what started Syria’s current war, the answer is this: a desire for freedom and the right to choose their leaders. Something so simple and so seemingly harmless, the idea that people have a voice and a right to be heard has transformed the country into a cauldron of blood; a hellish landscape where the sky is blackened by smoke and the ground is watered with tears.
But, as important as it is to vote, don’t just go out and vote for someone because you feel you have to. The act of voting is more than just showing up to the polls and choosing a name, it is a responsibility to be knowledgeable about the choices you face. It is a civic duty to vote but to vote without knowing why you are making that choice is more than just irresponsible, it is an insult to all those before you who gave their lives so that you could live in a free society. The right to vote is not something that I have won for myself, it is a precious gift given to me. A gift bought in the streets of Paris, the fields of Yorktown and Gettysburg, and enshrined in the Constitution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and many other great works.
My fellow Americans, when you vote take a moment to appreciate your freedom. In an electoral campaign noted for its divisive and cynical nature, think for a moment upon the rights you have and be grateful. A great many people in the world you love to have the choice of candidates facing us, if only to have a choice at all. Remember the weight of history upon you. Think of the cry of the oppressed in the Arab World: the People Want the End of the Regime! Think of the innocents crushed by tanks in Tienanmen Square. Think of the living and dying in Syria. But think too of the choice ahead of you and do not choose lightly. We have been given an awesome power, a sacred right, and it is not something we should take for granted.
I leave you with this: Vote! Be a part of this great democracy we have built. You have a voice, let it be heard! Rejoice in your freedom, so dearly won. Vote, and the dead shall not have died in vain.