Saturday, October 30, 2010


I was having a discussion the other day with my friend Clayton, about how it would be beneficial to have a sort of required term of service for America. Something like how some countries require their young people coming out of high school to join the military. Well, I'm not at all for making the military even bigger, nor do I support conscription. I know the military is more than a war machine these days, having many non-combat aspects, but it still remains one at its core, and I would never join such a monstrosity. Nor would I support forcing everyone to have to have a part in it. We need a smaller military and less war, and let's face it, having a huge standing army is just asking for trouble.

But I do think some service would do us all good. This discussion came up occasionally last summer when I was doing a stint with Americorps in Utah, the Utah Conservation Corps. The most startling example of the need for this was when my crewleader Ryan told the rest of us about some guy he'd met who had never left the county. Carbon County, Utah isn't a very diverse place, there's a handfull of tiny towns, with ranchland, desert, and mountains taking up the rest. These are the kind of people who would benefit the most from a mandatory volunteership. Because, how can we as a nation have a rational discussion about, say, race, when people such as these live in all white communities? America, outside of the cities, is extremely white.

But beyond issues of race, it would be extremely helpful to take people out of their tiny little world in small town Utah, and mix them up with people from all over, to put them in crews with people of all kinds of other backgrounds. The exchange of views would benefit all.

Maybe it sounds like I want the Mormons, the conservatives, to be exposed to diversity and liberal views. I assure you I'm not trying to conspire to convert the rural folk to liberalism. Although I'm definitely left-leaning on many issues (though not all issues), I fully recognize that it would greatly help liberals to expose them to other views; they can be just as isolated as these Mormons from Carbon county. A real benefit would be to mix rich and poor, since I believe this issue, that of class differences, is actually the root of most of our national disagreements. Across all these divisions--race, class, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, and more--we could see a greater interaction and, as a matter of course, a growing respect among all concerned. This would be a major step forward for the US and for humanity as a whole.

Lastly, a required term of service (which could count toward college credits, mind you), would help to re-instill a sense of civic duty and participation in the life of the country. We'd joke in Utah about "gettin' things done for 'Merica" but this is and could be a truly valuable program. Like the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the Depression, not only would we really be working on the problems this country faces, like that of failing infrastructure and broken cities, but it would give us all a chance to be involved in fixing it.

There is a great deal of pride that comes with that, and self-respect. It might bring back that sense of belonging to this country (beyond mere slogans like "we're number one" and "god bless america"). We'd have a stake in it, and might start to care more about what the politicians are doing; rather than grumbling among ourselves in the diner or in the living room, we might actually take a stand, together, as Americans rather than liberals or conservatives, rich or poor, black or white... and do something about it. This may be the real way through the polarization being foisted on us by the rulers and the media.


  1. But, if it was mandatory, one really couldn't call it "volunteering", could ya?

    While I agree that some good may come of an idea of this nature, I also can see a downside. Many people simply would go through the motions without investing themselves in the process.

    One of the great things about volunteering to do something is that the volunteer often has a great passion for the underlying cause or group. In many cases, this would be completely missing.

    My guess is that it would also become a very political process. Rich kids would get the plum appointments and the poor kids would land the worst assignments.

  2. Well, you got me on the mandatory volunteering. But I envision a wide variety of options (such as is already available in Americorps), so that kids could at least choose something they're interested in. There's a lot to be done out there.

  3. Though I do not necessarily agree with you completely on the idea of mandatory volunteering, I do know that to get into many college programs, there is a volunteer requirement. If everybody in the country were to have to volunteer, it would be much the same as what the person above has pointed out. The essence of volunteering would be lost.
    However, I feel that in order to get into certain fields of employment, or certain college programs, one should have to fulfill a minimum volunteer requirement. This will give them valuable experience and likely save them a lot of money in the long run by helping prevent changes in majors.
    Programs such as AmeriCorps are great and I am doing my second year of service through them. This is a great way for many people to get that volunteering on their resume and experience in something they may be interested in pursuing for a career.
    The only drawback to this though, is the pay. For many people, especially those that have already taken out student loans, a year of service through AmeriCorps is just not enough.
    It is a step in the right direction but more could be, and needs to be, done to make it more practical for people to do in a society where it is hard to survive on very little. And much more needs to be done to make it a more appealing and known option for people.