America needs its veterans to run for office. Yet with some of the lowest-ever participation rates in politics, it is clear that many are choosing not to engage.
One of the most common refrains I hear from military and other service veterans when the subject of running for office comes up is: “I wouldn’t know where to start.” Indeed, for many service veterans who have excelled on the battlefield, in the classroom, or in small villages around the world, running for office can seem like staring up at a vertical rock face with no footholds and no gear.
Fortunately, there is help. Nobody has to make the decision to run for office alone. There are a number of veterans organizations out there, founded and run by veterans, who are reaching back to help others climb the mountain.
Two of the most notable groups have been Veterans Campaign and New Politics Leadership Academy.
Co-founded by friends and veterans Seth Lynn and Norm Bonnyman, Veterans Campaign has been conducting nonpartisan “Second Service” workshops for military veterans since 2009. These workshops are part-schoolhouse, part-pep rally for veterans to gain the knowledge and confidence to get involved in politics. Typically two-day events, they bring together some of the biggest names and insiders in finance, operations, the media, and every other facet of campaigning so that veterans can succeed and win.
Kate Kranz Jordan leads Veterans Campaign’s efforts to encourage and train female veterans. She got involved because she shares the view that “military Veterans are a unique group with a proven commitment to service who have the potential to continue to serve their country at all levels of elected office.” Specifically, Kate is motivated by the Veterans Campaign’s “non-partisan approach to inspiring, encouraging, and training veterans to seek a Second Service.”
Another group working hard to bring service-related veterans together is New Politics Leadership Academy. Founded in the wake of Marine Corps veteran Seth Moulton’s successful campaign for Massachusetts’s 6th Congressional District, New Politics Leadership Academy is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group focused on helping veterans “answer the call” to “engage with policy and politics.” Their core ethos is that “service members are the best problem solvers, ‘dreamers,’ and change makers in our nation, and we need their guidance in policy making.”
Emily Cherniak, Founder and Executive Director of New Politics Leadership Academy, started the organization after realizing that the ways the country recruited political talent were broken. “So often, veterans have the kind of leadership skills we need as a country. They know what it means to serve something larger than yourself,” she says, but it isn’t always easy to find a way into a political system that can seem nepotic. “I started New Politics because when you look at our broken politics, it’s easy to see that we badly need those kinds of leaders.”
New Politics Leadership Academy is open to all military veterans and service-related organizations such as AmeriCorps, Teach for America, Peace Corps, and many others. Their workshop programs have grown quickly, and as of the Spring 2017 cohort, are present in at least 16 cities across the United States.
Just as important as the knowledge and experience gained through Veterans Campaign and New Politics Leadership Academy is access to a network of uniquely committed citizens. One of the best parts about military service is camaraderie, so the often-lonely, confusing process of running for office can be especially dispiriting. When veterans engage with the aforementioned groups, they become part of a family of individuals pledged to continuing their service and improving our nation’s politics. These are people to share the highs and lows with, trade advice, and reach back to both on the campaign trail and at the kitchen table.
This growing family of committed servant leaders is one of the next great movements in American government. By engaging with groups like Veterans Campaign and New Politics Leadership Academy, veterans can gain the confidence and skills they need to be successful on the campaign trail and, ultimately, improve our nation’s politics.
Roger is a naval officer, speechwriter, marathon runner, and proud believer that America's best days are yet ahead.