Participating in Our Nation's Democracy

By Michael Trudeau

blog_mt2_300.jpgAt Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace, a group of about 70 people stood in the 26-degree dry cold of the first day of winter.  Jovial exchanges from the group could be heard, even as chattering teeth made communication exceedingly difficult. Street performers playing music in this tourist-filled part of the city added to the joyous atmosphere.

As the group’s loved ones emerged from the Great Hall, they clutched small American flags and were brimming from ear to ear with smiles. They had just been sworn in as the nation’s newest naturalized citizens.

I had the pleasure of witnessing this incredible moment as I represented Veterans for American Ideals in collaboration with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. Myself, along with the other volunteers, helped these new citizens register to vote in the country many of them had called home for years. 

I spoke to families from every continent, save Australia, who came from countries like Kenya, Brazil, Bangladesh, Cape Verde, Armenia, and Canada. Many of them had been pursuing citizenship for years. One gentleman I met was originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and had been working towards citizenship for more than 12 years.

Despite the blistering cold—and after being embraced by their families and taking a few selfies—these new citizens were eager to complete their first act as citizens—registering to vote. A gentleman from Bangladesh in his mid 60’s greeted his wife with tears of pride as she made her way towards me to ensure that she could cast her ballot in the next election.

As a veteran, I was honored that so many people from around the world wanted to become citizens of the nation I swore to defend. As a citizen, I was even more humbled that so many wanted to have the ability to express themselves in the democratic process that is the heart of our country’s ideals. After briefly speaking with these new citizens, it was clear that they share and hold dear the values we all hold dear – love of family and a dedication to being contributing members of their communities.

blog_mt1_300.jpgEven though the crowd of people greeting their loved ones felt large, it was a small turnout for the 300+ people who were granted their citizenship that day. Many of the new citizens were alone, without any family to greet them on this momentous day. A quiet and reserved young woman from Kenya left the plaza by herself after she finished registering to vote. From my interaction with her, I got the sense that she was here trying to make a better life for herself, just like the rest of us. I thought to myself, “I hope she feels welcomed here.”

I’m incredibly glad that I participated in this event, and I plan on doing it again. For me, it was a chance to participate and do something tangible to contribute to my country. It was a way to show that the values I swore to defend are still worth fighting for, and that the United States is still a nation that others revere.

Despite the news I see of American isolationism, religious and racial persecution, and general disregard of other cultures, speaking to these new citizens showed me that people still come to America for a chance at something better.

If you want to feel like a true patriot, you could go the festivities on July 4th, but I recommend participating in an event like this. Physically show up. Even despite the cold, work to make a difference in someone’s life. Participate in not only these peoples’ stories, but the continuing legacy of our country’s democracy. 

 

Michael Trudeau is a veteran of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force and served as a sonar man on the USS Columbus. He is currently studying for his MBA at Northeastern University in Boston, MA.

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