Today is Memorial Day and you will receive the typical short statements from elected officials and leaders about how much they respect the sacrifices of our veterans to protect our country and our freedoms. But in my view, it isn’t enough to say some nice words and wave an American flag – the real question is, what are you doing today to protect our freedoms and honor that sacrifice?

There have been a number of concerning developments lately that suggest we need a broader conversation on what our freedoms are, and how much we are truly willing to protect those freedoms.

I suggest the following actions from our elected officials and law enforcement today, if they want to show their appreciation to our veterans and their commitment to protecting our freedoms:

  • We should protect our soldiers’ lives by not even putting them at risk in the first place. It is our elected officials’ responsibility to speak out against unnecessary war, such as the drums for war in Iran or North Korea, as well as against continuing action in countries like Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Will we honor veterans’ sacrifices by working for peace and prosperity and freedom, or disrespect the Constitution and charge into more war that will kill many innocents?

  • Furthermore, when soliders return from war, they often cannot receive the help they need. I recently spoke to a disabled veteran that was temporarily homeless. The VA was dragging its feet on processing his benefits. This is unacceptable. If we had strong programs like guaranteed, comprehensive healthcare (so-called single payer or “Medicare for All”) for everyone, not just veterans, it would have helped him get the care he needed. If we guaranteed housing as a human right to everyone, he would have had a place to stay. Will we honor veterans’ sacrifices by actually taking care of them – and all other Americans in need – or will we turn our heads away from suffering? It was so easy for our representatives to spend billions extra on defense! Will our elected officials pledge to spend that extra money fighting poverty and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure instead of creating new weapons?

  • We must stop treating corporations as “people”. Real, actual, living, breathing humans should always come first. This means we must ensure clean air and clean water, safe from pollutants such as fracking chemicals, to everyone. People and planet must come before profits! I call on all of our elected officials to respect our Pennsylvania Constitution when it says in Article 1 Section 27 that “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment.” Stop putting the “rights” of the fracking industry and oil and gas over the people’s rights to clean water and air and their right to natural resources that are “the common property of all the people”. We don’t have to sacrifice our health and environment for jobs. Will we honor veterans’ sacrifices to ensure individual and public constitutional rights come before corporate profits? Our elected officials can support stronger enforcement of environmental protections, demand a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050 at the latest, and can support a bill calling for a federal constitutional amendment that rejects corporate personhood and money in politics.

  • We must reclaim government itself, live up to the goal of “of the people, for the people, by the people” and create more democracy. This means giving everyone a fair say in issues that face the community. We CANNOT HAVE A FAIR SAY while corporate lobbyists and money flow freely into our political process. I call on elected officials to take a strong stance against money in politics. In particular, state representatives Daryl Metcalfe and Mike Turzai, as committee chair and house leader, should immediately support and move the bill to Ban Lobbyist Gifts. But it isn’t just them – not enough other elected officials speak out publicly about the issue. I call on all of them to put pressure on Metcalfe and Turzai, and to communicate with the public through newsletters and town halls about the lobbyist ban. Will we honor veterans’ sacrifices to ensure everyone has influence in their own government, or will we stand by while rich oligarchs control our government process?

  • We also can’t trust our votes have meaning when the common practice of the day is to use gerrymandering to suppress the votes of “opponents”, or to use scare tactics like “spoilers” to convince people to not vote their conscience and preference. We have to make it easier to register to vote and easier to cast a vote (probably best done by allowing more mail-in ballots). We must prioritize reforms like ranked choice voting and proportional representation to create a more democratic voting process as most of the worlds’ democracies already do. Again, Metcalfe and Turzai have the power to push forward the gerrymandering bill (the original version supported by Fair Districts PA, not the watered-down amended versions of HB 722 / SB 22) and the automatic voter registration bill, and introduce a ranked choice voting bill, and all other elected officials have the responsibility to speak out in support of such goals. Will we honor veterans’ sacrifices to protect the idea that everyone gets an equal vote, or will we allow gerrymandering to make some votes more important than others?

  • We must reaffirm our first amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. There have been a growing number of stories of peaceful protesters being arrested for speaking out against the actions of their government, which is protected by the first amendment. Locally in parks to be sure, but recently even an ex-CIA employee peacefully speaking out against Trump’s nominee to the CIA and her involvement in torture was arrested and charged with resisting arrest while standing IN CONGRESS, a building meant to be open to all people and a symbol of our democratic debate. I call on law enforcement to uphold our constitutional rights above all, and stand with the people – help us peacefully speak up against our government. Yes, disagreement is messy and of course some people won’t like it. It won’t always be completely “orderly”, but that’s sort of the point. Democracy is a messy business but we prefer it to authoritarianism and dictatorship. We need to protect free speech, and the priority of law enforcement needs to be working out a compromise so everyone is heard and ensuring no one side dominates the conversation or process, not simply arresting dissenters. Will we honor veterans’ sacrifices to protect the right to speak out against government proceedings and decisions that the people are commonly locked out of (partly because of money and anti-democratic voting issues, as described above), or will we let dissent be crushed under bureaucratic definitions of being “orderly”?

  • Our prison system is filled with non-violent offenders, often people in jail over minor offenses who simply don’t have the cash available to make bail. We’re taking away the freedoms of decent people just because they don’t have money, is that truly just? We must end cash bail at a minimum, but really move away from jail as a punishment in general. We stop crime by providing better schools and education and better jobs. People with good opportunities have no need to steal. People that feel loved and worthwhile in society have no need to attack or kill. In fact, more than half of veterans in jail have some form of mental health issues such as PTSD, and need healthcare more than jail time. In short, we tackle crime most effectively by respecting the human rights of all people. Will we honor our veterans’ sacrifices by protecting and expanding the human rights of all Americans, or will we stand aside while our fellow citizens are thrown in dark, disgusting jails where they are humiliated and have their rights taken away? Will our elected officials start by declaring support for pardoning non-violent drug offenders caught with small amounts of marijuana and giving them their freedom outside of jail?

Today I honor our veterans by exercising my constitutional rights and speaking up against a government and law enforcement system that often does not work for the people, and you can count on me to do the same once elected. I support local and state laws that recognize housing and healthcare as human rights for all. We need to invest in public housing and a single payer healthcare system to protect those rights. I support “good governance” laws to make our elections and legislative process more transparent and open to all, to remove the unfair influence of the wealthy and corporations on our system, and to adopt more democratic systems like ranked choice voting. I support rethinking our law enforcement and incarceration system to prioritize helping people instead of punishing people.

I encourage elected officials to stand up for these things. And I encourage citizens to hold their elected officials accountable – ask them what they are doing to accomplish these goals. A short statement on memorial day isn’t enough, we need legislative action.