Madam Speaker, it's voting season. Presidential primaries are being held all across the country, giving U.S. citizens the opportunity to vote, a right guaranteed by the 15th Amendment of the Constitution. This year, record numbers of citizens of all ages are turning out in droves, standing in lines to exercise that right, they are even participating in caucuses. As wonderful as it is to see more people participating in the election process, turnout is still not as high as it should be.
We live in the greatest country in the world, and enjoy more rights than any other country in the world. When you take into consideration that many in this country struggled, fought, and even died for the right to vote, every able bodied American should proudly vote whenever there is an election. We must never become so complacent, busy, or apathetic that we take for granted this most important right.
I was privileged to travel to Iraq, on January 30, 2005, to observe its first historic election. Having been in Baghdad and Fallujah and other parts of northern Iraq, I went to polling places, and when dawn came, the whole country was shut down to vehicular traffic. Slowly, surely and defiantly, the Iraqi people, young and old, men and women walked to the polls, taking their families, relatives, and neighbors. They voted for the very first time and attained the opportunity to make a free choice. The atmosphere of democracy unfolding was almost carnival in nature, a celebration of their new rights.
In spite of intimidation, threats, and actual violence, the Iraqi people boldly spoke out against the past oppression of Saddam Hussein and his dynasty of tyrants and spoke loudly for democracy.
Almost 300 individuals were wounded because they decided to vote for their own rulers, and they wanted to vote for freedom. Many died on election day going to or from the polls, yet 60 percent of these proud Iraqis walked to 30,000 polling stations. They took a great risk, but even after they voted, they stayed around the polling places to watch history unfold. When they left the polling booths, they walked down the street with their ink-stained right forefinger, signifying that they voted, held high in the air, defiant to terrorists, who swore they would murder those who voted or attempted to vote. The Iraqi people took the risk because freedom was more important to them, they were proud to be voters in the first free and fair election, the hope of democracy.
Freedom is not free. It always comes at a cost. Freedom fighters and civil rights activists throughout countless generations in this country paid a tremendous price to deliver equality and freedom for their brothers and sisters and the posterity of others. Thankfully, no one in this country risks being shot, or murdered for voting, so there is no excuse for able bodied Americans to stay home and remain silent. We should be proud to be part of free elections guaranteed by democracy.
A vote is a voice. It ensures that our democracy is of the people, by the people and for the people. Celebrate our hard-earned rights, remember those who fought, struggled, and lost their lives so that we could reap the benefits. Show our gratitude to those who made your freedom and rights possible by showing up at the polls, and proving that their sacrifices were not in vain. In this great country, each time there is an election, voter turn out should be so high that everything is forced to shut down because everyone is at the polls. Americans should show the world that this is what democracy is all about, and let those who yearn for democracy know that it is definitely worth fighting for!
And that's just the way it is.