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April 22, 2009

AmeriCorps triples

Yesterday, the President signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act at a ceremony in a Washington, DC charter school that has reclaimed a violence-ridden block. The Act will triple the size of AmeriCorps (if Congress appropriates adequate funds) and will direct the corps members to work on major national challenges: the high school dropout rate, energy conservation, and health disparities. Today's coverage of the bill and the signing ceremony--predictably--concentrates on the personal interactions among Obama, the eponymous Senator Kennedy, and President Clinton, who planted a tree as part of the day's events. There's also some coverage of Michelle Obama's background as an AmeriCorps grantee, which is appropriate. I would have liked (but didn't expect) a little more discussion of what "service" is, how it is changing, and what it can accomplish or not accomplish.

Note that the president naturally shifts from talking about direct service to themes of justice, organizing, and social change. In the campaign, he used the phrase "service and active citizenship"; and yesterday he said:

"Service" sometimes means serving soup to homeless people or cleaning up a stream--valuable but limited activities. The president talks instead about working with diverse people to address really serious, core problems, such as urban poverty--and to build institutions, such as the SEED charter school. The Act favors such activities, but the AmeriCorps programs will have to change to encourage real public work, planning, learning, and deliberation. The default will be lots of new miscellaneous and temporary positions that provide direct human services. I don't think anyone inside the modern "service" movement would be satisfied with the default, but we will have to work to avoid it.

April 22, 2009 8:30 AM | category: Barack Obama | Comments


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