The Best Get Out And Vote Message I Ever Read
By Dante Zappala
On April 26th, 2004, a day before the local primary elections, Sgt. Sherwood Baker was killed in Iraq. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. He was my brother.
Sherwood’s death brought the war home to his entire extended network of family and friends. None of us thought this powerful strong man could fall. We were wrong. The day after my brother died, amidst the disbelief and the sorrow, my mother went to our local polling station and cast her vote. Some may have told her it was futile or seen it as meaningless. After all, it was merely a primary. Sherwood, however, would have expected nothing less. He knew the definition of citizenship.
I’ve got hundreds of pictures of my brother. I can stare at them for hours. Maybe it’s mental torture, maybe it’s just part of the process, but I’m looking at the inflection of every smile, the direction of the creases on his face. I’m looking at every pixel for a hint about how this came to pass.
I’ve found a lot. We shared happiness on his 30th birthday three years ago. We shared pride and lots of tears when we were at Fort Dix before he shipped off.
His face is stern and unwavering in those pictures from Dix. Sherwood wasn’t bitter about being deployed.
He had reservations; people in their right minds don’t want to go to war, especially when they have a family. But he had made an oath before God to serve and he took that seriously. He was truthful and, above all, hopeful—a patriot in the truest sense.
The day Sherwood shipped off to Iraq, I knew that for our family, life was forever changed. In all I’ve done since that day, I’ve tried to maintain his sense of truth and hope. And since his death, I’ve started listening. I’ve learned that the way we talk to each other is as important as what we talk about. I believe the war has, in fact, affected almost every American family, only many have no idea how.
We all go to bed with the full support of our troops in mind and their safety in our prayers. But debates rage around dinner tables and in living rooms across the country. The righteousness of our opinions has created so much anger between us. We’re red in the face proving each other wrong. I’ve traveled the country, I’ve been in dialogue with all sorts of folks—activists, military families, politicians, people on the street. I feel a kinship, even with my supposed enemies, because we have all made the same choice to participate in this democracy.
We have watched together as some of our most spirited citizens, living otherwise humble lives in America, have been called to war. We’ve watched together as their lives are stolen away.
It is not my intention to tell you who to vote for.
We have all been victims of the usual fear mongering, spin and half truths that accompany the campaign season. I understand the propensity to want to shut it down. Television ads are either mindless or infuriating. Candidates are eager to push buttons, so we build walls. ‘They deserve each other,’ we might tell ourselves. ‘Why should I vote anyway?’
Letting apathy take hold, however, will only spell defeat. We will not be defeated by one party or the other, but by an ideology of hopelessness. But of even more importance, staying on the sidelines betrays the nobility of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Believe what you will about the war in Iraq -- about the pretext, the current situation and the solutions. However, understand that every Soldier and every Marine who has died in Iraq did so under the banner of our democracy. ‘Support our troops’ means get out and vote. While we may indulge in our cynicism as we debate particular points of withdrawal strategies, fine men and women who love their country are being disenfranchised by death.
And we have the luxury of walking to the polls and casting a vote. Be it a vote of conscience, a vote of passion or a vote of frustration, by God, we can vote.
Do your duty as citizens. Go to the polls. Pull the lever with an open heart. And carry with you the promises of the young men and women who can no longer do it themselves.
Dante Zappala, brother of Sgt Sherwood Baker, KIA 4/26/04, is a member of Military Families Speak Out