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 we 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.

During the election primary season, we 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.

Participants of VOI 2016 in Lancaster, PA.

On Memorial Day Weekend we held our first 3-day training intensive in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We are planning for the next institute in November 2017, along with several shorter trainings in relation to specific actions and campaigns.

The problem, the need

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.

Our long-term goal is to build a leadership institute that provides in-depth skills training and ongoing support to emerging progressive Veteran leaders, so that they can bring their unique perspective to American politics and shape the future. To inquire about the VOI or find out about upcoming VOI trainings and events, please contact us.

hutto“The Veterans Organizing Institute is the best nexus I’ve experienced connecting veteran organizing to the broader social justice movement. The facilitators did an excellent job of balancing the needs of a diverse group of veterans creating a safe space for folks to bear their hearts and souls. In return, I believe the participants took back with them an  array of tools and strategies to integrate within their existing work. I strongly recommend it.”

—Jonathan W. Hutto, Sr., Navy Veteran and author of Anti-War Soldier

montoya“I’m a ‘veteran’ to trainings, workshops, and retreats for the Veteran community. I found the Veterans Organizing Institute to be more attentive and informative to Veterans and our needs than any other training I’ve been to in the past. I learned so many new things, and I’m leaving eager to learn more.”

—Mickiela Montoya, Army Veteran

dex“As a Veteran and an organizer, the Veterans Organizing Institute has helped me refine my toolkit and focus on the skills that work. I would highly recommend this course to anyone looking to hone their skills and bring back something valuable to their work. It finally feels like I’m an organized organizer.”

—Penny Dex, Army Veteran