In 2013, we asked the question, “If you have an event asking service veterans to think about getting involved in politics---would they show up?” We saw what we believed to be an immense barrier to access for service members to move into politics. New Politics partnered ServiceNation, AmeriCorps Alums, and Center for Second Service and convened over 100 service leaders to discuss the challenges and the importance of getting involved in politics.
During the first “From Service to Politics” gathering in summer of 2013, we had a packed room of service veterans who wanted to hear leaders like Congressman Joe Kennedy (Peace Corps alum) and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (veteran) speak about their experiences in service and how it informs their leadership in elected office.
Inspired by the success of the first convening, we hosted another event in July 2015 where almost 200 service leaders attended. During both gatherings, we heard the same themes over and over from both guests and presenters: there are immense barriers to access for getting involved in politics, especially for service members. Congressman Moulton discussed the problematic and exclusionary hiring traditions on the Hill that prioritize Hill experience over leadership, character and skill. We heard from Congressman Stewart about the drop in service members in Congress by more than 50% since the 1970’s.Congressmen Seth Moulton and Chris Stewart joined Kennedy and Gabbard in the discussion, hosted in the Rayburn House Office Building.
We heard from AmeriCorps, Peace Corps and US Armed Service members and veterans alike about their difficulties in getting involved in politics, and how their background hinders their potential in politics. The discussions between service members and politicians reinforced what we already thought about our political system; that there is a pipeline to politics that excludes many talented leaders, and it’s hurting our country.
At the same time, we saw the impact that service has on those in politics. As Congressman Kennedy explained, “Not a day goes by here on the Hill that I don't draw on my Peace Corps service."Congresswoman Gabbard described how her “heart for service” informs her decisions and leaders with that ethic are the most suited to run our country.
Service members are trained leaders who are impact driven and put the nation first. They fit naturally into politics and have become some of our nation’s most prominent leaders. And yet, barriers continue to exist that push them out of the political system.
We plan to host many more From Service to Politics events in the future across the country in order to continue our discussion and work to solve these problems. If you’re interested in learning more or attending an event, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.