In 2016 we founded Common Defense to organize veterans to oppose Donald Trump, and build a home for progressive veterans to push back against the exploitation of our community as a political prop for the Republican Party. We’ve grown from a few dozen founders to tens of thousands of veterans around the country. We played key roles in preventing war with Iran, and achieving the impeachment of Donald Trump. We made ending what we veterans call the “Forever War” an issue at the forefront of the 2020 Presidential election.
In the 2018 midterms we helped support a new generation of bold leaders in Congress like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Deb Haaland, while defending majority-making vulnerable incumbents like Senator Jon Tester, who were willing to listen to veterans and take a stand against the Forever War. And our veterans have challenged Trump’s cronies in Congress like Dan Crenshaw, Matt Gaetz, Lindsey Graham, Cory Gardner, Susan Collins, Martha McSally, and countless others, teaching them that veterans will not be silent in the face of their betrayal of our democracy.
There are about 18 million U.S. veterans, and we are reliable voters, increasingly diverse, and are disproportionately concentrated in swing states and districts. Veterans are trusted figures within our communities and are highly-effective canvassers and organizers, but we are often skeptical of politics as usual and feel ignored by most politicians and the political establishment.
But now we face the most important election of our lives and have a real opportunity to change the system and make it serve working families like ours, not just the rich and powerful. We believe that this fight is bigger than any individual candidate, and the world we need can only be achieved by building and sustaining a movement of regular people all over the country. No matter who wins the White House, our work will not be finished.
We have never been afraid to stand up to powerful people in order to uphold our values and the oath we swore when we served in the military. Common Defense was one of the few national organizations to endorse Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during her 2018 primary challenge to the third most powerful Democratic incumbent. We’ve endorsed other candidates who did not win against established political machines, but who left our communities stronger and better organized for having run. But every endorsement we’ve made has been guided by the question, “What will make the progressive veterans’ movement stronger? What will draw more veterans into the movement to end the Forever War, pass Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, and reform or replace systems and institutions to ensure that liberty and justice truly is for ALL?”
With this in mind, the veterans of Common Defense proudly endorse both Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
We make this endorsement in part to urge supporters of both these candidates to keep the other as their second choice, and quickly consolidate behind them if their preferred candidate drops out or fails to meet the threshold for viability in a caucus.
We know that only one of these candidates can win, but it is imperative for our future that the winner be one of these two candidates. With that in mind, we knew we could not remain neutral.
Here are a few of the reasons we are endorsing both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders:
1) Ending the Forever War
As veterans, we know firsthand the devastating consequences of war. Our government has sent us overseas to serve in nearly two decades of war in the Middle East and around the globe. Despite millions of servicemembers doing their duty to the best of their ability, leaving behind our families and loved ones, returning home with visible and invisible injuries, or not returning home at all, the Forever War has not made anyone safer.
Two decades of war – supported mainly by a tiny political elite with no skin in the game – have only increased the power of extremist ideologies, destabilized entire countries, enriched powerful CEOs of defense corporations and tightened their hold over our government, discredited and weakened the United States around the world, poisoned our society with a paranoid security culture that discriminates against Muslims and immigrants, undermined our freedoms and hard-won civil rights, killed countless innocent people, and left a generation of veterans like us wrestling with moral injury.
It is time for a new path. Veterans like us are organizing the progressive veterans movement under Common Defense because our foreign policy is not working for any of us. Military families are tired of paying the price for the political establishment’s bad decisions and are looking for a President that understands our frustration.
Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have signed our veterans’ pledge to End the Forever War. The other frontrunners – Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar – have not signed the pledge, or even met with our members to discuss these critical issues.
Both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have campaigned extensively and unapologetically on bringing our fellow troops home, and have stood up for the majority of veterans despite the skepticism and smears of the hawkish foreign policy establishment and the political media who have too often been uncritical cheerleaders of these failed wars we were sent to fight.
While these two candidates are not the same on foreign policy, on the campaign trail they have both demonstrated their deep understanding of the devastating cost these wars have had for our community and our country. There are meaningful differences between them and both have policy strengths and weaknesses, but the differences between Warren and Sanders’ visions are less significant than the gap between them and the rest of the presidential candidates – who have not yet convinced us they would fundamentally change our broken status quo of endless war that continues to cost countless lives, trillions of dollars, and our nation’s soul.
A Democratic nominee who campaigns on ending the Forever War resonates strongly with veterans and swing voters. Allowing a candidate to become the Democratic nominee who would continue to send troops like us to fight and die in unnecessary wars in the Middle East – regardless of what rhetorical gymnastics they use to justify it or obscure it – will demoralize the veteran community and present an electoral liability against Donald Trump. Furthermore, we know that meaningful investments here at home cannot happen unless the next President reigns in our disastrous foreign policy, fights the giant corporations who have profited off of it, and takes on the senior Pentagon officials and foreign policy establishment figures whose power, reputations, jobs, and egos are heavily invested in the status quo.
2) Growing the veterans movement
Through ongoing interactions with both campaigns, we have seen that both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are serious about identifying and organizing veterans, empowering former service members within their campaigns, and working hand-in-hand with members of Common Defense to defeat Trump in the general election. Both Sanders and Warren have hired veteran organizing staff and built outreach programs that are bringing new veterans into the movement already. Both campaigns have acknowledged the need to significantly grow these efforts in order to defeat Donald Trump. These two campaigns understand that collecting a list of retired Generals and Admirals is not sufficient or the most meaningful engagement with our community, and are committed to the long term growth of a national grassroots veterans movement that will empower regular working class people and help pass progressive policy once they are in the White House.
3) We must unite our progressive base to win
Since the 2020 campaign began, we have continually surveyed our veteran organizers and members, and consistently found that both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have strong support among veterans – more than any other candidates still in the race. Neither Sanders or Warren have a majority of support, however added together they are consistently supported by three quarters of our membership.
Additionally, we’ve found that many of our members have the incorrect impression that Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg have greater support among other veterans than we’ve actually found to be the case. For example, our last member survey found that less than 4% of veterans support Pete Buttigieg, but nearly 15% mistakenly thought he has the most support among fellow veterans. We know that every campaign wants to portray themselves as having veterans’ support, and it’s critical that we speak for ourselves and not let ambitious politicians speak for us.
What does this mean for Common Defense?
Common Defense’s endorsement will be backed up with real grassroots power. In order to support these candidates and maximize the odds that a progressive wins the election, we will engage and mobilize as many veterans as possible from both of the candidates’ bases of support, and prepare to consolidate all of them behind whichever one of them prevails.
Should Sanders or Warren drop out of the race or fail to qualify for any given state primary, our team will work to rapidly pivot veteran volunteers from supporting that candidate to supporting the other.
We want to acknowledge that some veterans and close allies in the progressive movement may disagree with our strategic choice. Some of our members support other candidates, and others may dislike one of the candidates we chose to endorse and wish we had only backed their first choice. We want every veteran who shares our values to know that there is still room for you in Common Defense. This decision was the most difficult one we have had to make as an organization, and we approached it knowing that the easy option would be to stay on the sidelines. But we think the stakes are too high to wait to start engaging veterans in this fight to defeat Donald Trump and the long-term threat to democracy that his authoritarian movement represents. The military taught us to “run to the sound of the guns,” meaning to go where we are needed and not let conventional wisdom prevent us from fighting for our values.
Meanwhile, our other areas of work will continue. Regardless of where they stand on the presidential election, Common Defense will not forsake our allies. We will continue to elevate elected officials and candidates who share our values, particularly those who commit to end the Forever War. We will continue to support, uplift, and organize on behalf of our frontline Democratic allies in Congress who won us the majority – particularly those who listened to our veterans and stood with us on impeaching Donald Trump for his abuses of power. And we will continue to stand in solidarity with our Union brothers and sisters, as well as our fellow veterans fighting against Trump’s corrupt attempts to dismantle and sell off our VA hospital system and privatize the public goods on which regular Americans rely.
Over the coming months we will organize as hard as we can to ensure that either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren becomes the Democratic nominee, and ultimately the next Commander in Chief. But no matter who wins the Democratic nomination we will organize our military community to oppose this President and remove him from office. In the happy event that the primary narrows to only Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders remaining, we will re-evaluate our endorsement in consultation with our members.
The path forward
While Warren and Sanders have meaningful differences in their record and strategic approach, their supporters have much in common with each other, including a shared assessment that the status quo is broken and bold change is needed to fix it. White nationalist authoritarianism is growing in strength, and unity does not need to mean uniformity. We must draw more people into the democratic process in every way we can and organize a powerful movement that will be able to win the change we need and defeat the forces that gave rise to Donald Trump in the first place.
The next president will need the integrity to lead the country, the courage to champion a bold agenda, and the commitment to continue working hand-in-hand with the movement of regular people that elected them – or else Trumpism will only return. Both Sanders and Warren pass that basic test. The current president is a danger to everything we hold dear. Veterans will be organizing on the front lines to ensure he is defeated.