What could be more appropriate or enjoyable than to celebrate the nation's freedom today enjoying family and friends, waving a flag at a parade or ooh-ing and ahh-ing at a colorful fireworks display? It's a wonderful way to remember that many joys of everyday life we take for granted have special value -- and were purchased at a dreadful cost.
But there is something more we can do, too. That is to remember those freedoms also require constant attention and participate in activities that foster and protect them. Freedom works in America not just because of what Congress does -- or too often lately, doesn't do -- in Washington, nor just because of high-minded pronouncements from nine Supreme Court justices, nor even just because of actions by the state legislature. Freedom works because ordinary people take part in the mechanics of their community in myriad official and nonofficial ways.
In some cases, to be sure, those ways include serving on municipal or school boards or volunteering service on an official commission monitoring community planning or managing resources as varied as local libraries, parks or roads. They may include passing out petitions for candidates, or just attending informational meetings about proposals confronting the community.
But they don't need to be nearly so formal. Almost every state lawmaker hosts an occasional get-together at a local cafe to talk informally about what's going on at the legislature. Congressmen and senators do the same thing. Mayors, city councils and school boards frequently schedule a "Coffee with the (official name here)" to get community feedback and provide information about what's going on. Have you attended one recently? Ever?
But you don't even have to do that much nor concentrate merely on politics. You can volunteer for an organization whose cause you support or help out with a project at your church. You can write a letter to the editor of the Daily Herald or add a productive comment to an online discussion of one of our news stories. Shoot, you can just read the newspaper or at least scan the newsletter you get in the mail from your local library or town board.
The point is, as the hackneyed saying goes, freedom is not free. But it is not paid for merely by the inspiring sacrifices made by men and women serving in the armed forces. It also comes through the constant involvement of ordinary people in countless capacities. Sure, a strict definition of freedom says you aren't required to do any of these things. You're more than welcome to just wolf down the hot dogs and beer, cheer at the parade and admire the fireworks display. And without question, we all should revel in the dearly won spirit of liberty rising up from streets and sidewalks and backyards all over the suburbs today.
But if we want to stay free tomorrow, and the day after that and the day after that, we'd best not forget the humble and everyday duties the cause demands of us.