The DSA Veterans Working Group seeks to provide a conduit for veterans to connect with their communities and with each other to fight for our shared goals: racial, economic, social, environmental, gender, religious and disability rights justice. Our mission continues as organizers and comrades helping to enact democratic socialism.
Veterans have seen the inner workings of the beast that is our capitalist, war driven society, creating profit for the 1% at the expense of the many - who are often from working class backgrounds themselves, seeking opportunities to improve their status through military service. On a more positive note, veterans also understand the value of working as a group towards a common goal or mission.
The Veterans Organizing Institute is a veteran led program to develop the leadership and organizing skills of veterans who are working for progressive social change.
Beyond the Choir launched the Veterans Organizing Institute (VOI) in January 2016. In the Institute’s inaugural year they trained 63 veterans in organizing and campaigning skills, holding training in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. The program is run by veterans Jose Vasquez, Perry O’Brien, and Pam Campos-Palma with support from the rest of the BTC team.
Since the Vietnam War, the chasm between military life and civilian life in contemporary American society has insulated the larger population from having to think much about war or the military. At the same time, veterans carry a unique symbolic weight in American political consciousness. From the iconic minutemen of the American Revolution to the standard-raising Marines atop Iwo Jima, troops and veterans are imbued with a sense of super citizenship. They often are associated with deeply moral terms like courage, honor, and sacrifice. Veterans are the ideal types in the hero myths, which shape American patriotic nationalism. These myths permeate political rhetoric and inform the lip service veterans are often paid in everyday interactions. “Support the troops” and “Thank you for your service” are ubiquitous phrases often uttered as trite expressions of gratitude from civilians to military men and women. These narratives hold powerful sway in public discourse and are reinforced by politicians and ruling class interests that profit from war and the status quo. However, this basic perspective on the status veterans are supposed to enjoy masks the true economic and human costs of war. It also silences the lived experiences of veterans who often aren’t given the space to speak for themselves.
During the election primary season, the Veterans Organizing Institute trained veterans to challenge presidential primary candidates on a host of issues, including foreign policy, defense spending, immigration, militarization of police, and the refugee crisis. Springing from these gatherings, the #VetsVsHate campaign has garnered significant attention and sent a powerful message to politicians that veterans will not be silent as we are used as props for hate speech and warmongering.