This Veterans Day, we join together to honor our veterans and the many sacrifices made to keep our country free. But even on this day of national unity, if you turn on the TV, you’ll see an America torn apart by political parties and protests. This Veterans Day, it seems, we’re impossibly divided. But a new generation of veterans can heal our broken politics.
I got my education in the Marine Corps, where I led a platoon of 65 Marines in Iraq. It’s where I learned that, no matter your background, we all wear the same color uniform. It’s where I learned that leaders eat last, after their men, and that no one gets left behind. It’s where I found the spirit of common purpose that makes our country great. So when the pundits say we have nothing in common with the other side, I don’t buy it.
I’m six months into a run for U.S. Congress. My congressional district, North Carolina’s 9th, is like a slice of America. The district includes southeast Charlotte, one of the most prosperous parts of the country, and runs east near Fort Bragg through communities hit hardest by bad trade deals and automation — areas that President Trump won big.
I’m running as a Democrat in a red district, the kind of place that Democrats have nearly forgotten how to win. But I’m finding that most folks here aren’t extreme party loyalists. They just want to build a better future for their families.
Shortly after I started my campaign, I spoke to a small group in one of the most disadvantaged parts of the district in an old warehouse in a once-thriving mill town. As a candidate brand new to politics, I gave the stump speech I had prepared and invited folks to ask questions. I expected the kinds of questions I often see debated on TV, questions about Trump vs. Hillary, Democrat vs. Republican. Instead, the first question was from an older woman who raised her hand and asked, “Will I still be able to afford my eye glasses if I lose my Medicaid?” It wasn’t a question I had expected, but it was one I needed to hear. She hadn’t come to debate politics or policy. She came to find someone who could help.
Several weeks later, I traveled to a Veterans of Foreign Wars outpost in the suburbs. Again, I gave my stump speech and invited questions. A gentleman who had voted for Trump stood up and asked, “How do I know you won’t go to Washington and just become part of the problem?” I answered him honestly. “I don’t care about what Paul Ryan or Nancy Pelosi has to say, I just want to fight for the people in our district,” I said. I’ll work with anyone for the good of our state and country. That was enough for him. I had his support.
In the end, these neighbors of mine didn’t just care about political parties or punditry. They wanted to know that someone was fighting for them.
Putting people before party might be a revolutionary concept in modern politics but it’s nothing new for our nation’s veterans. For veterans, the idea of “service over self” isn’t a talking point. It’s part of our DNA.
Many of us joined the military after 9/11 because we wanted to serve. Now, at a time when veteran representation in Congress is at a historic low, more than 100 veterans are running for Congress because we feel called to serve again. We know what it takes to bring a divided country together, and we’re ready to do it.