Back in 2017, I wrote about my experience in AmeriCorps and the importance of national service. I described the potential for national service programs to mobilize hundreds of thousands of young people to help address short- and long-term crises.
This service could be military, civic, environmental, housing, emergency response…there are seemingly endless possibilities to provide practical career training while creating a workforce that can respond to national emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina and local crises such as homelessness.
This week, which happens to be Public Service Recognition Week, we’ve seen a surge both in the media and government in acknowledgement of the value and potential of national service.
In the media
Here is just a sample of articles from the past week promoting or covering national and public service.
We Need National Service. Now. The New York Times
There’s no reason this shouldn’t happen. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans support voluntary national service. According to a Columbia University study, every dollar invested in national service produces about $4 in benefits. The number of young people who want to take part in national service always vastly exceeds the number of slots.
America Needs a Rebirth of Public Service The Atlantic
If America has any chance to recover, let alone rescue a semblance of unity from the rubble of our polarized politics, we have to heed the admirable examples of these workers and seize this moment to end the war on government, revive our institutions, and shape a new era of public service.
AmeriCorps Supports New Mexico COVID-19 Relief Efforts Los Alamos Daily Post
“As this crisis continues, we’re going to need more members focused on public health outcomes throughout our state,” Secretary McCamley said. “AmeriCorps is a flexible, highly effective resource for community response and recovery efforts, and our members receive experience and benefits that prepare them well for their post-service careers.”
State and federal legislation
The distributed structure of AmeriCorps, in particular, makes it a strong candidate to help address both local and national crises. Seeing legislative movement at both the state and federal levels demonstrates the governmental cooperation inherent in the existing, albeit currently under-resourced, service model.
Moreover, support for national service has historically been largely bipartisan. In fact, while much of the recent push to expand national service is led by Democrats, the bedrock for AmeriCorps was established by President George H.W. Bush (R) when he created the Office of National Service, which would later become the Corporation for National and Community Service.
A unifying force
Our society is primarily built upon institutions of division: our economy, centered as it is around competition, serves mostly to pit us against one another in an inexorable pursuit of individual wealth; structural inequality imposes persistent barriers to education, cooperation, and mobility; geography and jurisdictional constraints limit the exchange of individual backgrounds, ideas, and participation; and, of course, our extreme political polarization suppresses our commonality in favor of ideological affinities.
Most AmeriCorps programs bring together people from multiple states and backgrounds. For instance, my own AmeriCorps team included people from Michigan, Oregon, Wyoming, and Georgia, among others. Our diverse backgrounds were a strength as we approached our work, and we continued to learn from one another over the course of the year.
Just as the coronavirus pandemic has revealed our shared vulnerabilities, perhaps national service can show us the way to a more united, collaborative, and resilient future.