31 March 2011

Please Help Save AmeriCorps

I created this blog as an outlet for my political opinions. Before I did, these opinions were usually relegated to my thoughts or loudly forced upon sometimes willing, sometimes frightened conversational participants. Now that I think about it, they still are. But as I've been watching Congress debate the budget, I've found another, greater use for it: to bring attention to a program very close to my heart, AmeriCorps, that is facing a very serious threat. The funding for this program, which is not only beneficial to the public but also fiscally responsible, has been set to be eliminated in the most recent budget resolution passed by the House of Representatives.

In short, AmeriCorps is the domestic version of the PeaceCorps. Its members engage in community and public service projects all around the country, from job training in Baltimore to redevelopment in New Orleans to environmental conservation in California. AmeriCorps members at the state and national level give back to their communities in countless ways for the purpose of improving this country and helping its people.

But House Republicans want to completely eliminate funding for the AmeriCorps program. They say it's costing American taxpayers too much money. Instead of getting into the logic behind that train of thought, I'm just going to share some facts.

From 2008-2009, I worked as an AmeriCorps member helping provide the homeless with health services in Boston, Massachusetts. I received a little over $13,000 (which is higher than the national average AmeriCorps stipend) and an educational award to perform 1,700 hours of public health-related community service in one year. That sounds like a good deal for the American taxpayer to me. This program isn't just cost-effective, it's actually effective: Since its creation in 1993 under President Clinton (and expansion under President Bush) more than 600,000 AmeriCorps members have performed almost one billion hours of service in thousands of American communities. And studies continue to show the program's positive effects on poverty statistics, community involvement, quality of life, the environment, public health, civic education, the list goes on. Plus, it partners with everything from faith-based charitable organizations to the Boy Scouts. Keeping it around is the definition of a no-brainer.

Although AmeriCorps has a staunch supporter in President Obama, Congress has made it clear they are willing to do away with it. This would deny future young Americans the chance to serve and future struggling communities the resources they need. Please don't let AmeriCorps disappear. Regardless of your political views, this is an amazing program that benefits everyone, relies on federal funding and MUST be included in the budget. 

If you want to help, here's what you can do:

1. Contact your local congressman/woman. It's cliche, but it works. As I assume the bulk of my reader(s) reside in the Northeast area, I have provided lists of representatives from Massachusetts and New York. They probably won't need much convincing. So for you and everyone else, go to Govtrack.us and email some reps in your area or across the country. Tell them to vote against defunding AmeriCorps.

2. Sign the Stand For AmeriCorps petition at Change.org. This petition was started by an AmeriCorps alum in Cambridge, Mass, has over 115,000 signatures and is garnering national attention. It's free, it takes two seconds. And it goes straight to the U.S. Senate.

3. Educate yourself about AmeriCorps. It's done a lot for this country yet somehow still remains under the radar. I think that if the program were better known, Congress wouldn't have even tried to get rid of it. The more people understand what programs like AmeriCorps, City Year, Teach For America, etc really do, the more they will recognize how vital they are.

That's all, thanks for reading my pitch and for your help!

01 March 2011

Wisconsin Power Grab

Collective bargaining is the essence of what we in post-Gilded Age America call unionization. Republicans, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, know this better than anyone. (Walker should better than most, as he is backed politically and financially by some of the strongest anti-labor forces in the country.) The fights in Wisconsin and Indiana and soon to be Ohio and elsewhere have little to do with budgetary prudence. They can best be described as a naked power grab by an aggressive, newly empowered class of Republicans aimed at destroying a Democratic political monster, public sector unions, by going straight for the jugular.

The 1800s showed us that an unorganized workforce with no ability to collectively bargain is antithetical to a strong middle class. I would hope no one, Republican or Democrat, wants to go back to those days of economic disparity. Even though we're almost there. But in today's political reality, public sector unions represent the largest and most powerful Democratic ally come election season. Republicans like Walker understand this and want to diminish, if not dismantle, the influence of unions. But in attempting to do so, these Republicans threaten to swing the pendulum too far once again and ultimately strip the average worker of his or her voice in the name of political posturing. This must not be allowed to happen.

Unions, while still a necessary bulwark against the abuses of unchecked power, are currently controlled by a leadership that has amassed too much influence in American politics. Democratic politicians live and die by their decree, and in return for massive voter turnout, reward unions with an invincible aura and benefits the American taxpayer cannot afford. This is a troubling reality and in response to it, unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere have agreed to take cuts in benefits, pay more for healthcare and even accept pay cuts. This is a rare overture from a major political player and should be a relevant factor at the negotiating table. If only there was one.

Supporters of Governor Walker's effort say that unions are spoiled and should be willing to sacrifice like the rest of us. Unions under fire in Wisconsin have shown they ARE willing to sacrifice, and are only asking the Governor if he is willing to negotiate. He has shown he is not. Walker's sights are clearly set on crushing public sector unions at the expense of Wisconsinites and their budget. This seems to be a recurring theme in 21st century America: a Republican hell bent on pursuing a dangerously narrow-minded agenda with a twisted sense of stubborn principle that would make even Reagan cringe. What has happened to the party of Lincoln?