As Ventura County residents get ready for Fourth of July celebrations and remember the thousands who died to give us the freedoms that we have today, we must not forget those who have sacrificed so much in this current era to protect those freedoms.

As former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden pleads for asylum after leaking secret documents that revealed the agency’s apparent overreaching surveillance programs, conservative and liberal politicians alike, including President Barack Obama, verbally attack Snowden for being a traitor. But perhaps Snowden is a true patriot.

By definition, a patriot is a person who vigorously supports his or her country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors. If our country is made up of citizens who are granted freedoms that our protected under our Constitution and those freedoms include the right to privacy, then, logically speaking, any person who releases information that our rights are being violated is actually a patriot. Anyone who works to protect our freedoms should not be vilified. Unfortunately, not everyone shares that perspective, especially those who hypocritically call for less government reach in our lives and then pass a controversial bill that gives government practically limitless abilities to encroach on our lives and our rights. And we have no one but ourselves to blame. After all, we elected them.

In the name of national security after 9/11, Congress passed, in 2001, the controversial and extremely complex bill the Patriot Act, which gave government permission to disregard our right to privacy. So we elected these people to Congress, and re-elected them, and all of a sudden, when we find out that the government has been gathering data on nearly all Americans, we become enraged. But this should have come as no surprise. These are the people we elected. And all that hope and change that we believed Obama would bring to America — the Patriot Act was extended for another four years in 2011 despite this promise that things would be different under his presidency, compared to that of George W. Bush.

As we enjoy our time off from work and grill up hamburgers and hot dogs in the name of independence, we need to reshape the way we view politics and those we elect. If we want our rights protected, we can’t vote for politicians who create legislation that dismantles those rights. If we are serious patriots, we must come to a universal agreement on what that actually means, and then move forward in voting for those who will serve our best interests. This division is getting us nowhere, but thankfully, we have people like Snowden who are willing to, at the very least, keep us informed.