A right like no other

A right like no other

According to a quote widely attributed to Mark Twain, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” I think the same can be said for voting.

The right to vote is what most sets apart a truly free people from those who are oppressed. It is a right for which countless Americans have bled and sometimes died. It is one that should never be taken for granted.

Even in the middle of a contentious political campaign, the “what” is far more important to The American Legion than the “who.” Article II, Section 2 of our constitution states, “The American Legion shall be absolutely nonpolitical and shall not be used for the dissemination of partisan principles nor for the promotion of the candidacy of any person seeking public office or preferment.”

Nonpolitical does not mean nonengaged. Quite the opposite. The American Legion has a robust legislative and policy agenda. To find out where it stands on various issues, go to legion.org/resolutions.

On a local level, many American Legion posts advocate for town policies, city ordinances and state laws. Departments often testify before legislatures and provide policy advice to governors. We simply do not endorse, support or campaign for political parties or candidates.

If you care about economic opportunity, VA health care, veterans employment, a strong national defense, immigration policy and other important issues, study the candidates’ positions and vote according to who best represents your view. Passing up the opportunity to vote is a disservice to those who fought for that right and the millions of people around the world who still yearn for a free ballot.

American Legion posts are encouraged to host forums, debates and town halls where candidates can explain their positions. Even the perception of favoritism should be avoided, and all candidates should be offered the same opportunity. While it’s permissible to wear an American Legion cap at an issue-oriented forum, it’s not advisable to wear one at a campaign rally or partisan event. Like all U.S. citizens, Legionnaires are free to run for office, but this should be done outside their capacity as members of our organization.

The first generation of Legionnaires fully understood the value of the vote. At the 8th American Legion National Convention in 1926, delegates passed Resolution 346: Open Discussion of Public Questions. In short, they called upon American Legion members “to exercise the privilege and duty of the elective franchise in an intelligent and unselfish manner as an obligation of citizenship in time of peace upon the same high plane as that of military service in time of war.”

They further resolved to urge members “to participate in all nonpartisan activities for the good of the community, and generally in every way maintain a watchful vigilance educationally, economically and politically in order that our liberty may be preserved and that all citizens may be equal before the law.”

The names of more than 58,000 men and women of my generation are etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Let’s remember how precious is this right. It didn’t come cheaply.