Notes from the panel discussion Building Bi-Partisan Support
See the Change/Wire post 10/29/08.
Friday afternoon, I attended a session on Building Bi-Partisan Support for national service.
RPCV Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT): Service alters your life in ways you can’t imagine, and the lives of the people you serve. Domestic service isn’t just about doing good and feeling good. It’s practical. For every dollar put out through national service, we save four or five dollars. The provider, the community, the tax-payer all benefit. That is how we convince Congress.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (NY): When she was first a member of Congress (after 30 years as a nurse), she started out serving in a committee that she was elected to, but that she didn’t know that much about. Started to look at re-authorizing the Give Act, she was amazed because she didn’t know that it existed. She knew a lot of people who were giving their time but they weren’t communicating among each other. Legislation is impossible without bipartisan support.
Rob Portman, Former Republican Congressional Representative from Ohio and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget. We must publicize ways to measure the value of service. Must demonstrate the value when there are competing priorities and a deficit. Government leverages service and volunteerism. Provides matching grants to coalitions. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have served. We have results. For example in Cincinnati, the anti-drug campaign has been successful. If AmeriCorps were a government program from Washington it wouldn’t have worked. Because of the grassroots ownership AmeriCorps is successful.
Giselle John, Public Allies Alumna. (Excellent speaker, so inspirational. She fills up the room with her
Public Allies Alumna Giselle John
passion.) She says she is a return on that Federal investment in communities (national service funding). Says her job on the panel is to be the living testimony of the value of national service. “It’s a conversation worth having.” When she found Public Allies New York, she was aging out of foster care, held down a $5.15 an hour job, was going to be homeless — again — because she couldn’t afford to rent a place. Public Allies bridged the gap between foster care and her public service career. Public Allies helped her learn to serve her community. Annie E. Casey Foundation consultant serving three county sites working on foster care issues. (Throughout the Summit, the most impressive speakers have been the national service alumni, from Mallory Josol, to Chris Dodd, to Giselle. Nice going, Alums!)
AnnMaura Connolly, Sr. Vice President, Public Policy and Special Initiatives, City Year. How we build support is by sharing stories, understanding the impact on the Corps members as well as the people they serve. We haven’t done a good enough job of sharing stories of participants and communities. During times when AmeriCorps funding has been threatened, it clearly revealed what would happen if AmeriCorps funding were pulled out. An example is Giselle John telling her story. Alumni can tell their story more powerfully than anyone else.
Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) Don’t give up on Republicans because it won’t happen without them. If any party should promote public service, it should be Republicans. Rush Lumbaugh scoffs at the idea of paying volunteers; he feels if you pay them they won’t do it for free. But look at alumni and what they are doing. One paid volunteer can leverage thousands of unpaid volunteers. Don’t assume members of Congress know what you are talking about with respect to how national service works and how AmeriCorps is funded. Show respect and explain it to them.
Moderator: At the Republican National Convention, day two was “Service Day” and day three was “Mock Community Organizing Day.” As McCain pointed out at the Service Nation Summit Presidential Forum, Columbia University encourages some service but doesn’t have on-campus opportunities to choose Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Is the bi-partisan support problem that of language? Can we come up with a definition of service that can resonate with all of us?
Carolyn McCarthy called the nonprofit sector the knitting of the community. So as a member of Congress she works with nonprofits. If national service proponents can win over the Congressional staff, the staff will get to the Member of Congress. Everyday McCarthy said she would go across the aisle and explain what she was trying to do to Republicans, until they began to understand and come on board.
Chris Dodd said it’s not about how you vote (in agreement with, or against) another Senator, it’s about the relationship with another Senator. A disappointment these days is that Congress can’t functions on a level of community because the community doesn’t have time to build. It used to Senators got paid for one round trip home per year, and because of that, they got to know others in the Senate. He said, you went to Washington and you stayed. Now people come in for part of the week and fly home; they don’t know each other that well. (This statement makes me wonder: When did this start to change; can we trace the current gridlock we see currently to this trend?) Fast food analogy: if two major fast food chains destroy each other by running constant commercials about how unhealthy and disgusting each other’s food is, all that happens is the industry of fast food will self-destruct. No one would want to eat fast food anymore. Same thing is happening in politics. People are losing their interest in either side.
Moderator: The Corporation for National and Community Service recently released a study that show that two-thirds of AmeriCorps Alums have entered nonprofit and public sector careers. Does this trend resonate with both sides?
AnnMaura Connolly says we need people in every sector who understand community issues. Private companies, academia, etc.
Moderator: In a time of rising deficits, how do we make national service a must-fund agenda?
Rob Portman says that we use national service to meet needs we have to meet anyway, in a more cost effective way.
Chris Dodd says that the government merely creates the architecture so that volunteer work can be rewarded. It’s a mosaic of organizations that grows and manages the programs rather than the government trying to manage everything.