Former volunteers to rally against possible funding cuts to Peace Corps
Marshall Wolff/for Daily News and Wicked Local
U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-7th, right, listens to David Magnani speak about funding the Peace Corps last night during a meeting in Magnani’s Framingham home.
By Danielle Ameden/Daily News staff
Posted Aug 18, 2011 @ 12:00 AM
U.S. Rep. Ed Markey rallied a crowd of Democrats last night to lobby against deep cuts for the Peace Corps, saying the country ought to prioritize the aid program over bombs.
As a newly formed congressional committee looks to slice $1 trillion from the nation’s budget, Markey called on citizens to stop Republicans from trying to slash funding for the organization. Rather than raise money through new taxes for the wealthy, conservatives will pit one federal program such as the Peace Corps against another, such as a Medicare, he said.
“This is a Solomon’s choice that is going to happen,” Markey warned, speaking to a roomful of former Peace Corps volunteers and Democrats at former state Sen. David Magnani’s home on Cherry Oca Lane.
The House wants to slash the Peace Corps’ $400 million budget by $26 million. President Barack Obama is pushing for a $40 million increase.
To make its case, the Peace Corps points to statistics: Its entire mission in poverty-stricken Sierra Leone, it says, costs the same as sending one soldier to Afghanistan.
Magnani, a former Peace Corps volunteer, is organizing an advocacy day on Capitol Hill on Sept. 22, part of the commemoration of the organization’s 50th anniversary.
Markey encouraged people to join the effort in Washington or protest online.
“We already have 500 people signed up,” said Magnani, the Northeast region representative to the National Peace Corps Association’s board of directors.
Markey “basically gave us the marching orders,” he said. The group plans to march door to door in Washington, telling every congressman that cuts for the Peace Corps are wrongheaded.
A $440 million budget, as Obama proposes, would represent .01 percent of the nation’s budget, according to the Peace Corps.
Markey urged volunteers to tell congressmen, “Here’s what we did” over the past 50 years to help improve conditions in third-world countries. In the end, that saves the U.S. money and enhances national security, he argued.
He wondered how many crises were averted because of Peace Corps’ service.
Congress needs to weigh the value of the Peace Corps, Markey said, against other “security” line items in the budget, such as the need for a $700 billion program to build more nuclear weapons.
“The other side is up,” Markey said. “They’re active. They believe that they’re going to win.”
Magnani, who served in Sierra Leone from 1961 to 1971, and later in Kenya, told the crowd that cuts to the Peace Corps budget “aren’t just bad, they’re stupid. They’re counterproductive and they’re stupid.”
Former volunteers said the program’s value is profound.
“It was probably the most significant thing that I have ever done in my life,” said Watertown resident Sue Kuder, who served in Togo from 1974 to 1976.
Kuder, who works at a Natick law firm, taught English and linguistics in the French-speaking country. Fellow volunteers built schools and provided basic health education, she said.
“There’s still a lot of pride in what the Peace Corps stands for and what the volunteers do and the reason they joined,” said Wes Fisher, a Stow resident who served as a teacher in Uganda from 1966 to 1968.
“The Peace Corps is such a bang for your buck,” Kuder said. “It’s ridiculous to cut Peace Corps. Peace Corps is nothing in the budget. Nothing.”
(Danielle Ameden can be reached at 508-626-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)