A Reflection on Election Day

The 2020 elections are before us and ensuring that your voice is heard and your vote is counted is critical to the democratic process. Voting is both a right and a responsibility, and I strongly encourage you to exercise it fully.

As I am an immigrant from the Communist Block and a naturalized U.S. citizen, voting has a special significance that I do not take lightly. When my parents brought me to the U.S. in 1968, we left Czechoslovakia during a brief interlude in communist totalitarian rule. The period is known as the Prague Spring. Alexander Dubcek was the president of the country at the time, and he believed deeply in democratic government. He tried to create what he called “communism with a human face” that included freely elected political leaders. On August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union responded to Dubcek’s effort by invading the country with 600,000 Warsaw Pact troops. I remember my parents crying as we watched tanks roll through Prague on the nightly news. Dubcek was replaced, and for the next 20 years, political leadership in Czechoslovakia was determined by the Soviets. The collapse of the Communist Block finally brought that period to an end in 1989.

Czechoslovakia was formed as a country in 1918 and codified in the Treaty of Versailles. From then until the invasion by the Nazis in 1939, Czechoslovakia was a democratic country. In 1945, as World War II was ending, Russian troops and American troops were driving Nazi occupation forces from Europe. American troops arrived in Czechoslovakia before Russian troops but eventually ceded the country to Russian oversight.

My father was in his late teens and early 20s during World War II. He was forced to work in a Nazi labor camp during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and then was significantly limited in his professional work during Communist rule. He is 98 years old now and frail, but his mind is as sharp as ever. He frets about politics a lot, and he has been closely following immigration policy, deportation cases, and racism.

Unless your heritage is Native American/American Indian, you too are an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants. My parents brought me to this country for a better, freer life. If you, your parents, or their ancestors came to this country voluntarily and not as slaves, I imagine that the same is true for you. John Locke, upon whose writings the Declaration of Independence is largely based, wrote that we are free most directly when we vote. Voting is the expression of liberty in its most direct and natural form.

I hope that you value the right to vote as much as I do. The majority of people on this planet do not enjoy the same privilege. It is now time to express our hard-fought right to liberty in the most direct way. It is time to vote.

As you prepare to go to the polls or perhaps reflect on the ballot that you already cast, it is worth reflecting on Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again.”