“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
I spent most of July 4, 2015 at the South Carolina State House. Hundreds of people gathered on the north lawn, and a gathering like that can quickly turn a holiday into a work day for a journalist. I had no complaints, and I still don’t.
Those hundreds of people, old and young, from different races, different religions, different backgrounds, came together with a single purpose. The day was as sweltering as the Famously Hot city gets. Some impromptu beverage stands popped up, but this was not Lake Murray. It was not the beach, not the Peach Festival.These people celebrated freedom in a different way: by exercising the rights men and women have fought and died for since before the Fourth of July was anything but another day on the calendar.
The cause they came to fight peacefully for isn’t the point as I write today. The point is their understanding that, as George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Liberty means responsibility.”
The men and women (and yes, women played a part) who made the Fourth of July a day worth capitalizing understood. They stood up against the greatest empire the world had ever seen and demanded recognition of the truths they held to be self-evident. They put their lives on the line, as countless men and women have in the 240 years since, whether in the military, in law enforcement, or in peaceful protest by standing up as those founding fathers and mothers did against oppressors foreign or domestic.
Every time an election comes along, the cliche is everywhere: “get out and vote, or you don’t get to complain.” Those saying it aren’t wrong. In the June 28 runoff elections, across South Carolina only 9 percent of those eligible to vote showed up to cast a ballot: 141,233 out of 1,568,483. In the presidential election of 2012, the turnout was just 57 percent. A look at social media might lead you to believe that everyone has an opinion about politics, but the numbers tell the story: many fail to do anything about it.
Voting is a big deal, but casting a vote should be the minimum expected of a citizen of the republic so many lives were spent to establish and maintain. The mission of the Anchor is to connect Midlands communities, spur engagement, and promote a collective voice that will ignite and transform our region. There are many people in the Midlands who have the same mission, but we (not just we at the Anchor, but all of us in the Midlands) need more.
We need people who will stand up and protest when a cause means something. We need people who will campaign for the candidates they think will best represent them in government. We need people who will call and write and email our leaders to let them know where the people stand. You can argue if you must that one vote rarely makes the difference in an election. I’ve been a journalist for a long time, however, and I’ve seen that the voices of voters do make a difference to elected officials.
Consider what this country would look like without people who get involved. Consider first the British accents we might all still have if the Washingtons, the Madisons, Jefferson and the rest had not stood up, or if the farmers had not stood at a bridge in Concord and let the most powerful army on earth know they would not be moved. Consider the South Carolina which might have been if Marion and Moultrie and 433 others had not held off a fleet using palmetto trees and Charleston sand.
Consider the shape of the world if Americans, including many from South Carolina, had not gone to Europe and the Pacific to keep freedom alive at home and overseas. Consider what America would look like if Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, James Clyburn, Rosa Parks, and all who followed them had stayed home and complained but not taken action. Consider what might have happened if young people had not put their lives on the line in Orangeburg, at Kent State, and at the Woolworth’s counter in Columbia. The heroes are too many to list, but they all fought for the same cause: our freedom to support whatever cause we choose.
We are the lucky ones. The number of people who remember the draft dwindles every year. Most of us have never known and hopefully will never know what it feels like to be compelled to serve. We’re free, because of those who did serve, to do as we please. I have opinions of my own, but I’m not trying to get you to take my side on any issue. That’s not what we do at the Anchor. However, this country was also built on debate. We all have the freedom to think for ourselves, to speak for ourselves, and to make our voices heard. Whatever side you’re on, on whatever issue, make your voice heard. Do it peacefully. Do it with civility. Honor those who gave their lives to win you the privilege. Happy Independence Day from all of us at the Anchor. We hope you’ll make the most of it, and of all the days after.
What comes next? You’ve been freed. Do you know how hard it is to lead?