Memorial Day is a time of remembrance for those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. My wife Elizabeth grew up on military bases around the world, as the daughter of an Air Force pilot, and this holiday has always had special meaning for our family. This year, I am calling on all Americans to use their Memorial Day Weekend not only for celebration and time with family and friends, but also for a deeper purpose: to honor the memory of the fallen by acting, as patriots, to honor troops today-to end the war and bring them home.
This is a serious holiday and a serious time. The American people voted last fall to stand by our troops, end the war, and bring our soldiers home. The Congress has sent the President a bill that would fund the troops and bring them home. But President Bush has embarked on a stubborn path-rejecting the will of the people and of Congress. He is not only continuing the disastrous war in Iraq, but is escalating our presence there and vetoing Congress’s bill that would support the troops. It has become clear that the only way to support our troops and end the war is by direct action-by democracy.
Some will say that this weekend is not the right time to ask Americans to stand together and tell the President and the Congress to end this war. They may say it is not patriotic, or that it does not honor the fallen.
I strongly disagree. I believe that Memorial Day Weekend is exactly the right time to honor the memory of those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and to honor the troops serving us today.
It has been said that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Mark Twain once wrote that the government must not “decide who is a patriot and who isn’t.” President Theodore Roosevelt went even farther. He said that to say there should be no criticism of a president is not only “unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
As these wise words make so clear, democracy is a wonderful gift. But it is not free. On the contrary, democracy is also a responsibility. Brave Americans have fought for it again and again, and this holiday honors their sacrifice. There comes a time when citizens, acting together in a democracy, can truly force change. That time is today. And I do not want Americans to stand up and be heard because of any political campaign or ideology, or because they were told to. You should instead reclaim your patriotism for one important reason: it was yours to begin with.
This Memorial Day weekend, this means more than just getting in your car, driving to the beach, a parade, or a picnic and saying the words, “We support our troops.” This weekend should honor the memory of the fallen through democracy itself. That’s why I am asking the American people this weekend to give something in return for the sacrifice of the fallen-to honor and remember all those who have gone before in service to our country, and to let our government know we want to honor our troops by ending the war and bringing them home.
I have offered Americans 10 suggested actions that will support our troops and end the war. These actions include sending our troops a care package, gathering in public to make your voice heard (taking a moment of silence beforehand to honor the fallen), organizing a prayer vigil, sending a letter to President Bush, and sending a thank-you note to our troops. In the days leading up to Memorial Day, we should take action to support our troops, end the war, and bring them home to the heroes’ welcome they deserve. And on Memorial Day, we should honor and remember all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
It was only four decades ago that we found ourselves in a similar place to today. We were embroiled in an unpopular war, plagued by disparities and inequalities here at home, and looking for leadership in Washington, D.C. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called us to action with three simple worlds. As he put it then, there comes a time when “silence is a betrayal” — not only a betrayal of one’s personal convictions, or even of one’s country alone, but also a betrayal of our deeper obligations to one another and to the brotherhood of man.
Martin Luther King’s demands were not to the government of the United States. He issued a direct appeal to the people of the United States, calling on us to break our own silence and to not sit idly by and wait for others to right the wrongs of the world. Today, I’m again calling on our nation to break its silence — speak out to end this war and bring our troops home.
At Riverside Church in Harlem in 1967, Dr. King made another attempt to reclaim patriotism. He told his audience they had to move beyond “the prophesying of smooth patriotism” toward “a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.”
This Memorial Day Weekend, we should all take up Dr. King’s call to action. It is time to take back patriotism from a President who has misused it to justify policies that have exacted such terrible costs-from Guantanamo Bay to domestic spying to the War in Iraq itself. Let us reclaim patriotism for all of us who love our country, support our troops, and are ready to end the war-and to bring these brave servicemen and women home to theheroes’ welcome they deserve.
For more information about this Memorial Day Weekend effort please visit: http://www.supportourtroopsendthewar.com