Happy Fourth of July! Many will celebrate this day watching a parade or a fireworks display. Others will gather with family and friends for a picnic or a day at the beach. Ballgames will be enjoyed, and some might even sing a patriotic song. There are countless ways to give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy here in the United States.

I was reminded of how precious our freedom is and how blessed we are to live in this country as I recently traveled to the nation of Haiti. A group of seven teenagers and nine adults took this trip in June to work alongside Haitians in various service projects. Our hosts were gracious and very welcoming of our group. We had a great experience.

In speaking with our hosts, one learned of the frustrations of a people in a nation that had a difficult time electing a new president. Add to this the lack of government services fuels a true distrust about government. We saw evidence of this in the condition of the roads, the lack of trash pickup and a failing electrical system. In regard to trash pickup, we saw one garbage truck in our weeklong stay, and this along the stretch where international corporations had their offices near the airport.

Rarely did we have electricity during the daytime, and an night it was only on for a short time. Fortunately, we had a generator to assist with that at times.

As we have endured a couple of days of excessive heat here in Southwest Michigan, we have a glimpse of the temperatures that Haitians experience throughout the summer. During this hot weekend, many of us have enjoyed air-conditioning in our homes and places of work. We have cooled ourselves with cold drinks from our refrigerators and even cooled our faces by turning on the faucet and splashing water on our face.

In Haiti, much of that will be difficult. The lack of electricity means air-conditioning is not a given, nor a cold refrigerator. Even splashing water on your face takes a new dimension. First, there may not be water pressure available. Second, splashing water on our faces was not advised, due to the condition of the water.

These are just some of the items that we take for granted here in the United States – electricity and water. We would call them necessities. In some places, there are more like a luxury.

We complain about our elected leaders and often feel they are not working for the good of all people. I certainly feel that way. Still, we have a system that carries out elections each year. While some find some flaws in the system, it is working. The weakest link in that system is not those running for office, or those trying to influence elections with their funding. The weakest link is voters.

Two years ago, during the primaries that included presidential candidates, only 28 percent of eligible voters chose to participate in the primaries. In 2008, it was 30 percent. In the actual presidential election, 59.7 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. Those numbers are hard to understand.

Primary elections will take place in early August in Michigan. We will choose candidates to run in the general election in the fall, as well as vote on various local initiatives. Voting is one of the most precious aspects of the freedom we celebrate this Fourth of July. If all we do is celebrate, but do not participate, we might lose that freedom. Complaining and protest are good tools, but the most effective is to vote.

Give thanks for the freedom we all enjoy. Give thanks for a government that does work to provide basic services that make life dependable. Then go beyond giving thanks and get involved in the process. Contact your elected officials, speak your mind and then vote. It is best way to celebrate our freedom.

Jeffrey Dick lives in South Haven. His email is: revjsd@gmail.com.