by Jeffrey Folks
As negotiations on trimming the national deficit dragged on this spring and summer, it should have been easy to come up with plenty of programs to cut. One candidate would be the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the umbrella organization that sponsors AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Learn and Serve America, the Social Innovation Fund, and other community service programs. So far, however, thanks in part to vigorous lobbying on the part of its staff, liberal supporters, and alumni, the Corporation has escaped the axe.
The title “United We Serve” is, of course, a take on the popular phrase, “united we stand, divided we fall.” It is a sentiment that can be traced back centuries but that has resurfaced among those on the left. The song “United We Stand” was recorded by the aptly named musical group The Brotherhood of Man in 1970. The same sentiment appears in a host of pop songs, including “Hey You” by Pink Floyd. While “United We Stand” can be understood to mean many things, it has recently taken on powerful suggestions of egalitarianism and universalism — purposes that would seem identical to those of CNCS.
Egalitarianism and universalism are evident in United We Serve’s “My American Story” public service announcements. Featuring Bon Jovi, Usher, and President Obama himself, these radio and television ads call on “all Americans” to get involved in community activism. As a matter of fact, they are practically insulting to anyone who might demur from mentoring disadvantaged children and adults, teaching the disadvantaged how to read, helping to feed the hungry, conducting a home energy audit, planting community gardens, and celebrating the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King Day by performing community service. As one of the ads has it, you can hardly claim to be living unless you are out there making a difference in your community.
As a fitting tribute to the anniversary of MLK Day, United We Serve suggests that every American perform at least 25 “actions” of community service during 2011. None of those suggested “actions” seem to involve regular employment, at least employment in the private sector. Indeed, those Americans who “just” go to work every day, support their families, obey the law, and mind their own business are portrayed more or less as hopeless deadbeats who should be ashamed of themselves. What are they doing working for businesses that actually produce something of value when they might join the ranks of community servants engaged in organizing, as the Corporation puts it, to “meet growing social needs.”
The propagandistic quality of United We Serve should be obvious. CNCS is not simply encouraging Americans to be more charitable in the way they have always been: by giving generously to their churches and synagogues, for instance. Indeed, there is not a word about charitable religious activity on the Corporation’s website. United We Stand is promoting purely secular forms of community service, and only those forms of service that can be controlled and channeled by bureaucrats at the Corporation. The real purpose of the administration’s increased interest in promoting community service, it would seem, is not the improvement of communities but enlistment of volunteers in support of a leftist worldview.