Our name captures the core of our mission: in order to build movements capable of winning real change, we need to do more than just “preach to the choir.” Beyond the Choir began as an inquiry into why progressives are often so insular; why we tend to talk to ourselves and “preach to the choir.” We wrestled with questions of how to reach, mobilize, and organize broader social bases—and what stands in the way of us doing so effectively.
Through this inquiry, we developed the analysis, training tools, and practical skills that inform all of our programmatic work today. It’s part of what led us to create the Veterans Organizing Institute (VOI) in 2016, as we understood that veterans come from diverse (mostly working class) demographics and hold a wide range of views, and we realized that many progressive veterans were hungry for opportunities to put their beliefs into action. Out of the VOI we launched #VetsVsHate in the 2016 election cycle. Eventually we started a separate veteran-led political action committee, Common Defense, which has amplified the voices of veterans in standing up and speaking out against the Trump agenda. (Recently, Common Defense incorporated as a separate organization to run all of the veterans organizing work incubated through Beyond the Choir. See their website for more information.)
This analysis of how to reach beyond the “usual suspects” is also baked into our emerging program to support organizing in smaller cities, towns, and rural areas too often neglected by progressive forces. In Pennsylvania we’re creating an organizing prototype that breaks out of entrenched patterns of progressive insularity. Over the past two years, Beyond the Choir has played a central role in supporting and sustaining Lancaster Stands Up, a new local formation that has been demonstrating one of the strongest organizing ground games in the nation. Lancaster Stands Up has mobilized thousands of people on critical issues like immigration, health care, and racial justice, and has on-boarded hundreds of new people into volunteer roles. Beyond the Choir has provided ongoing training and significant staff time to Lancaster Stands Up. This past summer we began expanding this training and support work to a statewide level in Pennsylvania, in partnership with PA Together. We have also been sharing out our trainings to a national audience, through webinars and in-person trainings.