As more news of ongoing crises in Syria and Sudan has pushed itself to the forefront of both my social media pages and my mind in recent weeks, a thought struck me. It’s one that, unfortunately, I take for granted all the time in my Katy and Houston bubble, and one that an upcoming holiday gives me a chance to reflect on.
In this country, as counties and cities, for all our black eyes, we have the ability to choose our leaders. We’re not at the beck and call of a ruthless dictator or have one-size-fits-all laws that do their best to bend our will or break our spirit. If we don’t like how someone is running Sugar Land, Missouri City or Stafford – or feel a different direction is needed – we simply nominate and select another.
Those in Syria, Sudan and other countries around the world are fighting for this freedom and others, but it’s a luxury they do not yet possess. So it’s not one any of us should take lightly or forget as we shoot off fireworks this weekend.
The Freedom in the World 2018 study by Freedom House found that, “Democracy is in crisis. The values it embodies—particularly the right to choose leaders in free and fair elections, freedom of the press, and the rule of law— are under assault and in retreat globally.”
According to the study, those countries experiencing a decline in the democratic process outnumbered those that registered gains, which has happened consistently for more than a decade. The report stated that 88 countries were classed as “free,” while 49 were classed as “not free.” Sudan and Syria were found by the study – which evaluates the state of freedom in 195 countries and 14 territories, assigning a score between 0 and 4 in a series of 25 indicators to give a maximum final score of 100 – have been two of the worst-rated countries with regards to civil rights and political liberties just about every time. These scores are used to determine two numerical ratings, for political rights and civil liberties, with a rating of 1 representing the most free conditions and 7 the least free.
The full report and explanation of its methodology can be viewed at freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/FH_FITW_Report_2018_Final_SinglePage.pdf.
The Fourth of July, which commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4, 1776, is fast approaching. This is the time we have set aside to remember the Continental Congress declaring the 13 American colonies were no longer subject (and subordinate) to the monarch of Great Britain and were free and independent states.
Nowadays, we celebrate the occasion with fireworks, outdoor grilling, carnivals and events such as the “Red, White, and Boom” celebration in Sugar Land or the Freedom Rings Concert at the Stafford Centre, which are just two of many events taking place in our local neighborhoods.
Having participated in and hosted events on this holiday myself, these are wonderful opportunities for fellowship, fun and relaxation that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But at times, I also fear we aren’t thankful enough for the freedom that we have that even allows us the chance to host such events.
Following three decades of dictatorship in Sudan, Omar El-Bashir was forced to step down from power in April. In the aftermath, Sudanese people have wanted to ensure that the political party elected next is a civilian-run government. Originally, military council and civilian-opposing groups agreed on a three-year transitional period to hand the government back to democracy. However, talks of a pro-democracy country began to break down earlier this month, according to media reports. In response, the military killed dozens of protesters during a crackdown on a protest camp, bringing the death toll to 118 people as of June 11, and reports have hundreds more injured.
So say what you will about our leaders past and present. There is no perfect one. Every leader, from those before Bob Hebert to current Fort Bend County Judge KP George, likely has decisions they would like back in hindsight. Sugar Land Mayor Joe Zimmerman, Missouri City’s City Manager Anthony Snipes and those before them are not immune to errors in judgement or completely above reproach.
But though the dynamics of each area under these leaders’ charges vary widely, one thread connects them all – the ability of the people (or a nonpartisan council in the case of Snipes and Missouri City) to select or elect them. If a majority of voters do not like them, they can simply be voted out or replaced by a council at the next available opportunity.
That luxury is one that unfortunately too many still do not have around the world. Even having one country or area going through what Sudan, Syria and others have endured is far too many. These people have been forced to fight back, because they haven’t had a voice for so long.
I cannot imagine a situation like that ever occurring in modern-day America. Despite our issues and varying opinions, I can’t ever recall a time when anyone even considered the thought of a military coup – or its equivalent – being necessary on our own soil.
Why? Because we have a voice and the ability to choose our leaders, through a fair and democratic process, which so many do not. And that’s thanks in large part to the American patriots that came before us.
So let’s take a moment on this Fourth of July to reflect on our liberties, and pray and fight for those who don’t yet possess them that they might experience the freedom we now have.