Memorial Day: Answering Our Call to Civic Duty

Manu Meel

Every Memorial Day, we rightfully remember and reflect upon the millions of brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom, opportunity, and liberty. Those Americans represented a clarity in moral purpose and courage that few ever embody.

And every Memorial Day, I am left wondering how we can best honor their sacrifice. How can we ensure that their sacrifice was not in vain?

William Faulkner once wrote that, “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”

Our brave men and women in uniform practiced freedom by defending freedom against all enemies foreign and domestic. In 1776, it was those early colonists who picked up their rifles to overthrow the grip of tyranny. In 1861, men and women young and old went to battle to break the shackles of slavery. In 1941, twenty-somethings signed up in troves to go to the beaches of Europe and the Pacific to fight back fascism. In 2001, our neighbors, coworkers, and friends went to the distant land of Afghanistan to avenge the terrible 9/11 attacks.   

In our darkest of moments, America has always counted on her brave citizens in uniform to fulfill their call to duty.

In 2022, America needs her civilians to practice their freedom by answering their call to civic duty. That is how we honor the sacrifice of millions of Americans. They gave their lives so that we could make the most of our freedom; so that we could live a life worthy of living.   

Just in the last three weeks, America has been rocked by the leaked Roe v Wade decision and three mass shootings, with the most recent shooting taking the life of 19 children in Uvalde, Texas. Since the last Memorial Day, we experienced the withdrawal in Afghanistan, a persistent pandemic, soaring inflation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and continuous gridlock in Congress. Our country is reeling with mistrust, division, and a loss of purpose.

Simply put, we as Americans are not living up to the promise of the greatest democracy in the history of humanity. We have a moral responsibility to uphold the sacrifice of the millions of Americans who gave their lives so that we could live ours.

Our call to civic duty begins with acknowledging the basics. We do not have a democracy if we don’t engage. We do not have a country if we don’t have some sense of unified belonging. We do not have a society if we cannot talk to each other.

Our call to civic duty requires much less courage and bravery than the brave men and women whom we remember today. We are not being asked to set off to distant shores and lands to lay our lives on the line. We are simply being asked to be better in our daily lives.

Our call to civic duty requires humility. It requires us to understand that our rights come with responsibility and that empathy and respect must guide how we engage our fellow Americans. In our everyday lives, we must remember that our actions add up in the aggregate to determine the direction of our democracy.   

And as a young person, my call to civic duty requires me to recognize the legacy of everyday Americans who have created change by finding their purpose and acting with conviction. The greatest threat that young people face is apathy. And we must recognize that by choosing apathy, we are actively ceding ground to the loudest voices in society to claim representation for the majority. Just as those in our uniform united behind the cause of defending freedom, we must actively resist our divisions and find common cause to write the next chapter in the Story of America. 

On this Memorial Day, we must not just remember the sacrifice of our fellow Americans; we must commit to carrying their legacies forward by answering our call to civic duty. Whether it is community service, registering to vote, or taking time off social media to talk to our neighbors, we must practice our freedom with responsibility for it is a privilege afforded to those lucky enough to be born into a democracy.

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