The Politics and Civics of National Service

The Politics and Civics of National Service: Lessons from the Civilian Conservation Corps, VISTA, and AmeriCorps

MELISSA BASS
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7864/j.ctt4cg79r
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  • Book Info
    The Politics and Civics of National Service
    Book Description:

    In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt created America's first domestic national service program: the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). As part of this program-the largest and most highly esteemed of its kind-nearly three million unemployed men worked to rehabilitate, protect, and build the nation's natural resources. It demonstrated what citizens and government could accomplish together. Yet despite its success, the CCC was short lived. While more controversial programs such as President Johnson's Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and President Clinton's AmeriCorps survived, why did CCC die? And why-given the hard-won continuation and expansion of AmeriCorps-is national service an option for fewer Americans today than at its start nearly eighty years ago?

    InThe Politics and Civics of National Service, Melissa Bass focuses on the history, current relevance, and impact of domestic civilian national service. She explains why such service has yet to be deeply institutionalized in the United States; while military and higher education have solidified their roles as American institutions, civilian national service is still not recognized as a long-term policy option. Bass argues that only by examining these programs over time can we understand national service's successes and limitations, both in terms of its political support and its civics lessons.

    The Politics and Civics of National Servicefurthers our understanding of American political development by comparing programs founded during three distinct political eras-the New Deal, theGreat Society, and the early Clinton years-and tracing them over time. To a remarkable extent, the CCC, VISTA, and AmeriCorps reflect the policymaking ethos and political controversies of their times, illuminating principles that hold well beyond the field of national service. By emphasizing these programs' effects on citizenship and civic engagement,The Politics and Civics of National Servicedeepens our understanding of how governmental programs can act as "public policy for democracy."

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2381-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 Introduction: National Service as Public Policy for Democracy
    (pp. 1-10)

    In the weeks following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush encouraged Americans to go shopping and to visit Disneyland. At a time when the president enjoyed near-universal support for his handling of the crisis, this bully pulpit directive fell conspicuously flat. It turned out that Americans wanted their president to ask more of them. Several months later, Bush changed his appeal: he stopped telling Americans to shop and started asking them to serve.

    The president’s call for Americans to engage in service to their communities and country, echoed by presidents who came before and after...

  5. 2 Citizenship and the Elements of Policy Design
    (pp. 11-34)

    In the United States the idea of national service has long been contested, always the exception rather than the rule.¹ But there have been exceptions: members of the military service, some conscripted, have ably defended the nation. To channel martial energy into peaceful pursuits, the philosopher William James advocated waging a “moral equivalent of war.” Years later President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created a “tree army” through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). President Kennedy’s famous words—“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”—inspired thousands to join his Peace Corps and...

  6. Part I. The Civilian Conservation Corps

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 35-36)

      Drive through almost any American state or national park and most likely you will find a marker commemorating the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps. For nine years—from 1933 to 1942—the CCC put over three million unemployed men to work rehabilitating, protecting, and building America’s natural resources; their work remains of environmental consequence today. The CCC also had important civic and political consequences. Although not considered so at the time, it was America’s first, and largest, civilian national service program; understanding its lessons as public policy for democracy and its development and demise is central to assessing the...

    • 3 The CCC’s Roots and Relationships
      (pp. 37-41)

      In his first inaugural address, President Roosevelt declared that the “nation asks for action, and action now. Our greatest primary task is to put people to work.”¹ Within a month and a day, the promise of action yielded the Emergency Conservation Work program, better known as the Civilian Conservation Corps. Three months later nearly 275,000 men were working in the nation’s forests.² That government might work with such speed, and on this scale, is extraordinary; that it occurred through the cooperation of four federal government departments—Labor, War, Agriculture, and Interior—all coordinated by an independent agency nearly devoid of...

    • 4 The CCC’s Purpose and Government’s Role
      (pp. 42-55)

      A program such as the CCC comprises multiple, overlapping elements that influence its political support and viability and communicate lessons to participants and the public, in large part through policy feedback dynamics. In short, these elements shape the politics and civics of the program, which in turn influence future policy development. Drawing on Anne Larason Schneider and Helen Ingram’s framework, these elements include the program’s purpose (goals) and the role it gives to government, including how government’s role is organized and supported (rationales, and agents and implementation structures).¹ These elements are the focus of this chapter; the program’s “tools, rules,...

    • 5 The CCC’s Tools, Rules, and Targets
      (pp. 56-78)

      Like its purpose and role for government, the CCC’s tools, rules, and targets—the service work it supported, its educational goals and content, the type of participants it recruited, and its obligations and inducements—influenced its political support and viability and communicated lessons to participants and the public, in large part through policy feedback dynamics. In short, these lower-level policy elements further shaped the politics and civics of the program, which in turn influenced future policy development. As the previous chapter explained, the CCC’s design details generated much political support but were unable to overcome obstacles to long-term viability. Indeed,...

  7. Part II. Volunteers in Service to America

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 79-80)

      Since 1965 more than 170,000 Americans have served in the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), working to combat poverty in the United States. VISTA is the nation’s longest-running domestic civilian national service program; it continues today as part of AmeriCorps. As a result, understanding VISTA’s history (in this part, its pre-AmeriCorps history) and its lessons as public policy for democracy is the next step in assessing the possibilities and limits of national service.

      Like the CCC, VISTA influenced how its participants and the public—particularly members of VISTA’s communities—understood their relationship to government and the meaning of citizenship....

    • 6 VISTA’s Roots and Relationships
      (pp. 81-87)

      “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” With these words President John F. Kennedy called America to national service. And while Kennedy’s national service legacy is tied to the Peace Corps, he also laid the groundwork for what became, under Lyndon Johnson, Volunteers in Service to America. VISTA was established by the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which launched Johnson’s War on Poverty initiative.

      Through VISTA an average of 4,000 people a year, mostly young adults, lived and worked in impoverished communities for one to two years, “helping people help...

    • 7 VISTA’s Purpose and Government’s Role
      (pp. 88-113)

      A program such as VISTA comprises multiple, overlapping elements that influence its political support and viability and communicate lessons to participants and the public, in large part through policy feedback dynamics. In short, these elements shape the politics and civics of the program, which in turn influence future policy development. Drawing again on Anne Larason Schneider and Helen Ingram’s framework, these elements include the program’s purpose and the role the program gives to government, as well as how government’s role is organized and supported. This chapter focuses on these elements; the next chapter, on the program’s “tools, rules, and targets”...

    • 8 VISTA’s Tools, Rules, and Targets
      (pp. 114-146)

      Like VISTA’s purpose and role for government, its tools, rules, and targets—the service work it supported, its educational goals and content, the type of participants it recruited, and its obligations and inducements—influenced its political support and viability and communicated lessons to participants and the public, in large part through policy feedback dynamics. In short, these lower-level policy elements further shaped the politics and civics of the program, which in turn influenced future policy development. Consistent with the findings discussed in the previous chapter, VISTA’s design details—including its association with critical citizenship—generated high levels of controversy that...

  8. Part III. AmeriCorps

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 147-148)

      Since 1994 more than 775,000 Americans have served in AmeriCorps, working to meet the nation’s pressing educational, public safety, health, environmental, and other needs. AmeriCorps both drew on and is distinct from its predecessors: it incorporated VISTA as one of its programs, included another—the National Community Conservation Corps (AmeriCorps*NCCC)—that had been modeled on the CCC, and created a major new program (AmeriCorps*State and National). Because AmeriCorps is the nation’s main domestic civilian national service program, understanding its creation, its development over time (including through President Obama’s first years), its place in national service history, and its lessons as...

    • 9 AmeriCorps’s Roots and Relationships
      (pp. 149-159)

      In his first inaugural address, Bill Clinton challenged “a new generation of young people to a season of service.”¹ Seven months later, he signed the legislation creating AmeriCorps to help them do just that.² Housed in the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNS or CNCS), it has three components: AmeriCorps*VISTA, AmeriCorps*NCCC, and AmeriCorps*State and National. As part of AmeriCorps, VISTA retains its focus on serving low-income communities and its administrative structure, while growing to approximately 7,300 members in 2011. AmeriCorps*NCCC, much like the CCC, combines civilian service with certain military-type elements. Its approximately 1,200 uniformed members live together and...

    • 10 AmeriCorps’s Purpose and Government’s Role
      (pp. 160-195)

      All programs, AmeriCorps included, are composed of multiple, overlapping elements that influence their political support and viability and communicate lessons to participants and the public, in large part through policy feedback dynamics. In short, these elements shape the politics and civics of the program, which in turn influence future policy development. Drawing again on Anne Larason Schneider and Helen Ingram’s framework, these elements (as in the CCC and VISTA) include the program’s purpose and the role it gives to government, as well as how government’s role is organized and supported. This chapter focuses on these elements, and the next chapter...

    • 11 AmeriCorps’s Tools, Rules, and Targets
      (pp. 196-226)

      A long with its purpose and role for government, AmeriCorps’s tools, rules, and targets—the service work it supports, its educational goals and content, the type of participants it recruits, and its obligations and inducements—influence its political support and viability and communicate lessons to participants and the public, in large part through policy feedback dynamics. In short, these lower-level policy elements further shape the politics and civics of the program, which in turn influence future policy development. Consistent with the findings in the previous chapter, AmeriCorps’s design details have allowed slow but steady growth in the program’s size and...

  9. Part IV. Conclusion

    • 12 Making Sense of the Past and Its Lessons for the Future
      (pp. 229-248)

      In the United States, domestic civilian national service has been difficult to create and just as hard to maintain and expand. The CCC was America’s first, largest, most highly esteemed, and most explicitly civic of national service programs, but it was also the shortest-lived. VISTA was, and remains, our longest-existing program, but also our smallest and most controversial. AmeriCorps has done much better, expanding in political support and size to become the first domestic civilian national service program to grow under presidents who were not responsible for its creation. But whether AmeriCorps will be widely recognized and strongly supported as...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 249-294)
  11. Index
    (pp. 295-304)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 305-305)