Opinion

I am not the president; instead, I hold an even higher office, that of citizen of the United States. For most of us in this country, citizenship is a birthright. However, this does not cloak the citizen with a life free of responsibility.

On the contrary, America comes with a price, often a heavy one, that we should each gladly pay. Though duties pedestrian and noble, from paying taxes to voting, are obvious tasks incumbent upon citizens, often something more is at stake – as evidenced by the rows of white gravestones near such places as Normandy. It is the obligation of all citizens to participate in the affairs of state. Whether we support or criticize actions taken in our name, we need to lend voice to our findings. When done respectfully, sincerely and soberly, this can be a profound act of patriotism.

One need not be a scholar of international law to know that war at this time and in this place is unwelcome, unwise and simply wrong.

And although my opinion is not any more valuable or relevant merely because I am an actor, that fact does not render it unimportant. Some have suggested otherwise, trying to denigrate the validity of this opinion and those of my colleagues solely due to our celebrity status. This is insulting not only to us but to other people of conscience who love their country enough to risk its wrath by going against the grain of powerful government policy.

Activism by celebrities does carry added responsibilities. Statements, demonstrations and marches that include public figures undoubtedly receive a measure of press, providing access to a stage that others often cannot reach. As a result, we are often called to give voice to the voiceless and a presence to the marginalized.

Whether celebrity or diplomat, cabdriver or student, all deserve a turn at the podium. In speaking the truth as we know it, my friends and I have stood proxy for all those yet to join this great public debate. We urge their participation and welcome them to the fray, for in the end, this is not about us but is truly about the matter of life and death.

Martin Sheen plays President Bartlett on NBC’s “The West Wing” and is a long-time peace and justice activist.

This commentary originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.


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