Seventeen years ago, we met on the campaign trail in central Florida — two young idealists excited to help flip a swing congressional seat and elect Al Gore President. We quickly bonded over standard campaign rites of passage: long hours, wretched accommodations in campaign supporter housing, a modicum of dysfunction, and, above all, a shared commitment to electing leaders who would make our country a better place. To put it mildly, the 2000 election didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped — but from that point forward, we recommitted ourselves to the work of advancing progressive values.
Somewhere along the way, we both married into the United States Navy. Suddenly, in addition to our friendship and progressive values, we shared something else: the newly challenging life of a military spouse. We learned how to make frequent PCS (Permanent Changes of Station) moves as easy and painless as possible, lived apart from our spouses for professional reasons, dealt with deployments, confronted professional licensing barriers that vary from state to state, learned how to raise resilient military kids by trying to provide them with some sense of stability and normalcy no matter where they live at the moment, and navigated the many other realities of a modern military family. Over the years, we’ve both been fortunate to meet amazing spouses and their families while at duty stations ranging from Lemoore, California to Yokosuka, Japan, who have shown us what it means to be strong.
We also came to appreciate how difficult it can be for progressive military family members like us to connect with one another, and find ways to plug into larger efforts to make change on the issues we care about. That’s partly institutional: military families (at least, active duty families) move frequently, and don’t always have a close connection to the community where they live or its elected officials. We’re often not registered to vote where we live, and may not have lived where vote for several years, which can leave us disconnected from the decision-makers whose policies affect our families.
The critical prohibition against political activity on bases and at official command functions, while essential to the rule of law, means that some of the settings in which families interact the most are essentially off-limits to discussions about organized advocacy. The same is true for quasi-official family readiness groups, informal spouse clubs, and similar groups that provide military families at a particular base vital support they need without family and friends nearby. They play an incredibly important role in the life of a military family but as a matter of norms, groups like these can discourage — often strongly so — discussions with even a whiff of politics. While these norms exist for good reason, they can leave progressive military family members feeling ideologically isolated, and without an obvious way to get involved in the issues they care about.
This context made it all the more remarkable to see military family members standing up for progressive values in recent months, from the Khan family to the fellow military spouses we saw at the Women’s March. And it inspired us to ask ourselves: what kind of difference could progressive military families make if we organized, helped them connect with one another, and gave them the tools to get involved?
We know the answer is a significant difference, and that’s why, along with other dedicated military family members, we’ve launched Military Families Mobilize.
Military Families Mobilize is creating a network of likeminded military families — active duty, reserve, National Guard, and veteran spouses, parents, siblings, and others — and empowering them to stand up for progressive values. Using a comprehensive digital outreach program that can more easily reach this constituency, we’ll identify and connect progressive military families no matter where in the world they live at the moment. And through old-fashioned organizing and local engagement, we’ll connect families in key communities at meetups, trainings, and other events, and provide them with tools and opportunities to take action — harnessing the uniquely credible voice of military families on issues including healthcare, equality, foreign policy, and more. In addition to our primary work on engagement and advocacy, we’ll also empower our network to take action in elections where our values are at stake — starting in Virginia this fall.
There’s a popular misconception that military families are uniformly conservative. That’s probably why President Trump treats his speeches on military installations as inappropriate, barely disguised campaign rallies. But the reality is that military families encompass a wide range of ideologies and demographic groups, just like society as a whole — and there’s plenty of evidence of an increasing number of left-leaning families in the ranks. Earlier this summer, Gallup polling data showed a 16-point drop in President Trump’s approval rating in military communities. A Quinnipiac poll taken after President Trump’s recent tweet announcing his decision to ban service by transgender individuals showed that a majority of military households disagreed. Elsewhere, buried in a study rightly cautioning against political activity by active duty officers, researchers documented a growing percentage of officers — long seen as traditionally more conservative than enlisted service members — self-identifying as moderate or liberal. In short, progressive family members out there who may have been feeling alone in their beliefs most certainly are not.
We’re inspired by the military families we’ve seen speaking up over the past year for the progressive values that make our nation stronger. We know that there are many more of us, looking for likeminded family members and an opportunity to get involved. We’re excited to get to work organizing — and we need your help. Visit militaryfamiliesmobilize.org to join us today.
— Summer Brennan & Sara Zdeb, Founding Board Members