During the short, intense political campaign of Sarge Shriver, who was running as the vice presidential candidate in ‘72 with George McGovern, I was - for one day - Eunice Shriver’s designated driver.
I was in Philadelphia and volunteered to help Harris Wofford; he had once been Shriver’s Peace Corps co-founder and now was his campaign advisor. I was assigned to be Eunice’s driver. She had a series of campaign appearances scheduled that day, mostly at colleges and universities. I was to meet her early in the morning at the famous Rittenhouse Hotel on Rittenhouse Square. I was on time, parking illegally while the Shriver Campaign Advance Man for Philly rushed into the hotel to call up to her room and tell her we had arrived.
Minutes, then more minutes passed. I kept the car motor running until a beefy Irish cop got on me for parking in the hotel’s no parking zone. Having never talked back to a police officer in my life, but feeling a lot more afraid of Mrs. Shriver than of this cop, I told him that I was waiting for Mrs. Kennedy Shriver. She was staying at the hotel and was expected momentarily. And then I added, in a moment of pure blarney, perhaps Kennedy inspired, ”She’s late to see the mayor.”
The cop nodded a silent okay and melted away, leaving me parked in my illegal spot. Maybe it was my Irish face, but more likely, it was the Kennedy name in the city of brotherly love.
A short while later Mrs. Shriver arrived with the Advance Man, and we sped out of the Square. I had to 1) make it out of the downtown; 2) then to her first appearance at Villanova University on Lancaster Avenue, way out of town, up on the Main Line.
Needless to say, there is no easy way to traverse Philly. Unlike the sensible east coast cities of Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston, there is no convenient Beltway or West Side Highway to get from A to B, or from Rittenhouse Square to anywhere.
But that wasn’t my immediate problem. My immediate problem was that Mrs. Shriver wanted gum. Chewing gum. “Yes,” she said from the back seat, “could we stop and buy some gum?”
It was as if I was traveling with a teenager.
In search of a gum shop, I circled the square and headed into downtown Philly, a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys left over from Ben Franklin’s days.
At the height of morning rush hour, we found a place and the Advance Man and Mrs. Shriver both jumped from the car while I kept it idling in front of a fire hydrant while watching for cops.
Moments later, Mrs. Kennedy appeared, gumless. From my driver’s seat, I could see her scanning the nearby store windows. She disappeared again in the maze of pedestrian traffic and out of the first store popped the Advance Men. He looked frantic, having lost the Vice Presidential Candidate’s wife. I signaled him where Eunice had gone, while checking my rear mirror. A cop approaching on horseback!
Horseback? Of course, what else could go wrong? But, inexplicably, he just rode past me.
Mrs. Kennedy reappeared, gum in hand. Intent on ripping the plastic off the pack, she was totally obviously to the rush of pedestrians. The Advance Man steered her to the car and we were off, only several furlongs ahead of the mounted officer.
Luckily the Advance Man was a native son of Philly and a genius at negotiating the downtown traffic. With his deft directions, and my heavy foot putting the pedal to the metal, we cleared the city and headed for the leafy Main Line.
We were late, of course, dangerously so, and while I knew Harris Wofford had gone ahead to make final arrangements with the university, and to prep the audience waiting for Mrs. Shriver, late was one thing. Really late was another.
I took on red lights with abandon, hoping that that my passenger would be my “get out of jail card” for any Philly cop. Arriving at Villanova University, we were greeted with signs and banners and welcoming words for Mrs. Shriver. I deposited her and the Advance Man at the front door of the auditorium, parked illegally (I was getting into this campaign mode) and followed them into the packed hall where Harris was in full roar, telling Shriver stories, and thrilling the crowd of excited undergraduates.
Afterwards, when I apologized for arriving so late to Mrs. Shriver’s first appearance, Harris brushed it off, and said he was having a great time entertaining the faculty and students. He could have used more time, he said.
But what had taken so long, he wondered.
Gum, I said. Chewing gum. He nodded knowingly.
Apparently, all the Kennedy women were famous for their addiction to chewing sum.
And we just lost the last one of that generation. The Kennedys had their goals, big and small, and they didn’t let smaller concerns get in the way of them.
Archives for Politics
During the short, intense political campaign of Sarge Shriver, who was running as the vice presidential candidate in ‘72 with George McGovern, I was - for one day - Eunice Shriver’s designated driver.
The Committee of Returned Volunteers (CRV), the first national organization of RPCVs in 1965 actively opposed the Vietnam war. Their copious writings–newsletters, information kits, analytical papers–portrayed the goals of U.S. foreign policy as exploitative. The true function of the Peace Corps, they believed, was to mask this imperialism by putting a warm and friendly face on America’s presence overseas.
CRV members were among the marches showered with tear gas at the 1968 Democratic convention, and in 1970 they occupied the Peace Corps building in Washington for 36 hours to protests the student killings by National Guardsmen at Kent State and Jackson State Universities, as well as the invasion of Cambodia.
All of this is detailed by Karen Schwartz who found out this information by filing a Freedom of Information Act request back in 1988 when she was research her book on the agency, What You Can Do For Your Country: An Oral History of the Peace Corps published by Morrow. The document, which filled a small carton the size of a phone book, did not arrive until July, 1991, after her book was published. Karen then wrote an article in July 1992 for RPCV Writers & Readers, a newsletter strarted by Marian Beil and myself in 1989.
The FBI placed the CRV and other antiwar groups under the category of “New Left–Foreign Influence.” In numerous documents the FBI described the CRV’s objectives as “establishing contacts with revolutionary groups, aiding guerrillas, destroying existing governments and transmitting information to Soviet bloc countries.”
CRV leaders did meet with representatives of North Vietnam while they were in Cuba, and one actually visited Hanoi, but the idea of the CRV destroying governments and transmitting information is absurd, writes Schwarz. “This was an organization run on $5 dues from a membership of graduate students, social workers, and school teachers.”
But by defying a State Department ban and spending four weeks in Cuba, as guests of the Cuban Government, no less, the CRV distinguished itself as no run-of-the-mill antiwar group. Keep in mind, writes Schwarz, “that this was just seven years after the Cuban missile crisis and U.S.-Cuba relationships were strained.”
In true cold war style, an FBI special agent reported to 22 field offices that CRV members would be gathering in Austin, Texas before going to Cuba for a two-week “indoctrination” course. (The CRV called it an “orientation.”)
Cases were opened on all 39 travelers and, as one document shows, the FBI observed their day-to-day movements in the weeks before their departure. One such report describes members getting into a friend’s car. The license and registration were traced and included in the report along with a few details about the owner of the car.
What was particularly disturbing about the documents Karen Schwarz received is that they indicated a heavy reliance on informants–more than a few members of CRV were actually cooperating with the FBI. One list of informants is four pages long, and every name is blacked out.
On a lighter note, FBI agents assigned to monitor the CRV were often lazy. If they had no new information to write up, they would simply summarize the contents of a recent CRV newsletter. Sometimes they didn’t even bother to paraphrase–they just re-typed the newsletter or submitted the newsletter itself stapled to a cover sheet. One buried note was that Paul Tsongas (Ethiopia 1962-64), later a senator and presidential candidate, listed as having taken over the job as treasurer of CRV’s Boston chapter.
To Karen Schwartz’s disappointment, she found no bombshells in the documents. She paid $200 in fees for the material, with much of it blacked out. 63 pages of the F.O.I.A. documents were deemed too “top secret” to be sent to her. “In the interest of national defense or foreign policy” because their disclosures would constitute “unwarranted invasion of privacy” and reveal the “identity of a confidential source.”
Schwartz sums up, “As I read the FBI dossiers on CRV leaders I was reminded of how quickly things changed in the 1960s. When these individuals had proudly answered John Kennedy’s call, the FBI had done the routine checks on them before they went overseas. Then, when they came home questioning the decisions of America’s leaders and scrutinizing the values of democracy, the FBI took a much closer look–and these RPCVs found a totally different place in the history of the sixties.”
I spotted this article on Nigeria’s “peace corps’ …we’re getting a bad name even when we do have PCVs in country! Now we are truant officers
Nigeria: Peace Corps Launches Squad to Monitor Students
Mustapha Suleiman and Romoke Ahmad
30 July 2009
The Peace Corps of Nigeria recently launched an anti-students loitering squads to monitor loitering among students in various schools in the FCT.The event which held at the Women Development Centre, attracted the Onah of Abaji, Alhaji Baba Yunisa, Abuja Environmental Protection Board’s Director, Engineer Abubakar Shehu Yabo, FCT Director of Basic and Secondary Education Department.
AEPB Director Engr. Yabo, lamented over the problems of juvenile delinquencies among youths in the country, despite moral and religious teachings being given to them.
“Despite moral and religious teachings, the youths are still swimming in the ocean of destructions by engaging in armed robbery, drug addiction, exam malpractices, bush burning, illegal quarrying, hawking, begging, littering, improper disposal of wastes which cost government fortunes to clear, and other forms of environmental degradation,” he said.
The AEPB boss further lamented that the youths are being used as weapons of mass destruction in various parts of the world and he appealed to stakeholders in the FCT to participate fully in fighting juvenile delinquency among youths in the FCT.
Earlier in his address, the National Commandant of Peace Corps of Nigeria, Ambassador Dickson Akoh explained that the members of the newly launched squad will be posted to various schools in the FCT with the instruction of curbing students loitering and other acts capable of affecting their educational growth.
He said Peace Corps being a youth’s oriented organization will continue to implement initiatives that will add values to youths’ development in the county.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 14, 2009
President Obama Announces Intent to Nominate Aaron Williams as Director of the Peace Corps
WASHINGTON, DC - President Obama today announced his intent to nominate Aaron Williams to be Director of the Peace Corps.
President Obama said, “America was built on a belief that the best progress comes from ordinary citizens working to bring about the change they believe in. Through a lifetime of service, Aaron Williams has embodied the very best of that American ideal. I am grateful for his service and honored to nominate him to direct the critical work of the Peace Corps.”
The announcement comes as the President prepares to throw out the first pitch at tonight’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game and appear in a video with all five living presidents to spotlight the stories of five of Major League Baseball’s “All-Stars Among Us,” Americans who have undertaken extraordinary service in their communities. Answering the President’s call to service through United We Serve, Major League Baseball has dedicated this year’s All-Star Game and the events surrounding it to highlighting the critical importance of community service. United We Serve is the President’s initiative encouraging all Americans to engage in sustained and meaningful service in their communities.
Aaron Williams, Nominee for Director of the Peace Corps
Currently a Vice President for International Business Development with RTI International, Aaron Williams has over 25 years of experience in the design and implementation of worldwide assistance programs. As a senior manager at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he attained the rank of Career Minister in the US Senior Foreign Service, and as Executive Vice President at the International Youth Foundation, Mr. Williams established innovative public-private partnerships around the world. As USAID Mission Director in South Africa, Mr. Williams led a billion dollar foreign assistance program during President Nelson Mandela’s administration. In addition to his work in South Africa, he has extensive experience in the strategic design and management of assistance programs in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East; including long-term assignments in Honduras, Haiti, Costa Rica, and Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean islands region. In addition to his tenure with USAID, Mr. Williams served on the Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid at USAID. Mr. Williams was awarded the USAID Distinguished Career Service Award and the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service twice. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and he serves on the Advisory Board of the Ron Brown Scholar Program, the Board of Directors of CARE, and the Board of Directors of the National Peace Corps Association. Mr. Williams served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic (1967-70). Upon completing his service, he became the Coordinator of Minority Recruitment and Project Evaluation Officer for the Peace Corps in Chicago (1970-71). Mr. Williams is fluent in Spanish. He is a graduate of Chicago State University, and has an MBA from the University of Wisconsin.
A Washington friend of Babbles dropped us a note with some interesting, and unsubstantiated, gossip:
At a Washington dinner party over the weekend with journalists and Capital Hill staff types, I heard two bits of gossip which intrigued me.
The first is that the $450 million Peace Corps appropriation may be in trouble because, as one staffer told me, “The director of the Peace Corps hasn’t made a personal visit to Senator Leahy asking for the money.”
“Humm,” I replied, “There is no Director of the Peace Corps. Obama hasn’t appointed one yet. I’m not sure the acting director is expected to do that sort of thing.”
This stumped my source who said he was just repeating Hill gossip that Leahy was somehow offended. So never mind all the lofty arguments about Peace Corps needing a larger appropriation, it may come down to ego and a protocol misstep.
The second point has to do with lack of action on the Peace Corps director. ”If you think that is a problem, what about USAID?” said this staffer. “They are still waiting on a director too.” And the problem is that State — and more specifically, at least in this telling, Clinton — keeps vetoing names being sent down from the White House. The reason: Hillary wants to keep a tight hold of USAID, a nominally independent agency, and that’s easier to do with no director in place, especially a director who has tight links to the White House. Perhaps the same is true of the Peace Corps director.
Any of this true? Who knows, but the talk is delicious.
Leahy at Peace Corps Crossroad is a “My Turn’ column in the Burlington Free Press written by Scott Skinner (Nepal 1964-66). Scott writes:
“Sen. Patrick Leahy has frequently provided courageous leadership in the Senate. But he is now faced with a major challenge, and it is not clear that he is going to step up to meet it.
“Sen. Leahy is the chairman of a key Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee that funds the Peace Corps. On Thursday, this subcommittee is scheduled to meet to allocate approximately $49 billion for a large variety of foreign projects. Funding for the Peace Corps is a tiny part of this sum. As chairman, Sen. Leahy can basically decide himself how much funding goes to the Peace Corps.
“The Obama administration had proposed a Peace Corps budget of $373 million, an amount that would effectively reduce the number of the Peace Corps volunteers despite the president’s campaign pledge to double it by 2011. A key subcommittee in the House, with bipartisan support, has already unanimously rejected that budget and has set aside $450 million, which would permit the Peace Corps to expand into countries like Indonesia and Vietnam.
“Sen. Leahy is no big fan of the Peace Corps. While chairman, his subcommittee has doled out paltry increases that have led to fewer volunteers being sent abroad. Most people do not realize that the number of Peace Corps volunteers serving abroad today is only half the total of 40 years ago. Interestingly, 36 senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have written to Leahy urging increased Peace Corps funding.
“Sen. Leahy has major complaints about the administration of the Peace Corps, and many of his concerns are valid. Peace Corps officials have irritated him by failing to answer his legitimate questions; too many volunteers are stationed on remote islands; an entrenched bureaucracy in Washington is top-heavy with political appointees.
“Leahy is correct that the Peace Corps needs major reform. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., has introduced legislation that would help to reform and revitalize the Peace Corps. President Obama is expected to soon name a new director who can be expected to shake up the agency, as well.
“But the Peace Corps needs both reform and increased funding if it is to regain its vibrancy. Energetic leaders are not going to want to preside over a shrinking agency.
“Peace Corps volunteers have lifted American prestige around the world as millions of people in Third World countries have formed their opinion of America from their contact with the Americans who lived in their villages and learned to speak their language. And all of this came at a low financial cost to the American taxpayer — one-tenth of 1 percent of the military budget.
“It is in our national interest to have a larger, more vigorous Peace Corps. And the need is there. Nearly 20 countries have asked the Peace Corps for volunteers. And the volunteer spirit is not lacking; last year 13,000 Americans applied for the 4,000 positions available.
“Vermont has a remarkable Peace Corps legacy, boasting the nation’s highest percentage of former Peace Corps volunteers per capita.
“Vermont has contributed over 1,300 volunteers, with 61 Vermonters currently serving. The University of Vermont is ranked 11th in the nation (for schools of its size) for the number of its alumni who have served.
“This is a critical time for the Peace Corps. Either it will grow and rejuvenate itself or it will wither away. The direction of the Peace Corps is almost entirely in Sen. Leahy’s hands. I am hoping the senator will become a champion of a renewed and revitalized Peace Corps. If he can accept this challenge, he will have once again earned the gratitude of all Vermonters.”
Scott Skinner, a lawyer in Montpelier, was a Peace Corps volunteer teacher in Nepal from 1964 to 1966.
More than 6,000 U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers have served Hondurans since 1963 in every facet of development, in every state of that nation. This uninterrupted service bridged seventeen years of military rule, the Soccer War (1969), two serious hurricanes (1974, 1998), and sporadic flooding exacerbated by deforestation. Since 1981, Honduras has participated in civilian rule. On June 28th, the president elect, his family, and foreign minister were forced at gun point to leave. Below is an electronic message from Joe Arcoleo (Honduras 1977-80) who reports from that country.
I was in Tegucigalpa while attending a funeral of a family member and travelled outside of the capital area during the events June 25 through 30 of this year.
I audited an organizing committee meeting that a group of ordinary citizens held during my visit. These citizens considered the Honduran military’s actions to remove the President illegal. They brave men and women asked me to send this note to you on their behalf.
The committee members stated during this tense meeting that they were openly fearful for their personal safety, and the personal safety of any one individual who would speak against the military’s actions and the Micheletti regime. I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed the discussions of this group of men and women of conscience. The organizers re-iterated that they intended to commit to Martin Luther King’s principle “passive resistance” in response to this most recent attack on civil liberties. This includes attacks on the free press, as well as the right to travel, and free assembly. They said that the current regime could use any concrete action that the group might take as an excuse to justify violence against them.
This Honduran group is working through Vicki Gass at Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) http://www.wola.org/ . I encourage all Honduran Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to monitor the WOLA site. Please take any cue for actions that US citizens can take from WOLA. I also encourage you to monitor the School of America’s Watch site http://www.soaw.org/. You will find out that the general who overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras is a two-time graduate of the U.S. Army School of the Americas. All soldiers I saw during my recent visit were equipped with new uniforms, guns, equipment, and support vehicles that our tax dollars supplied.
I understand how you can come to the apparent conclusion that there is popular support among Hondurans for this illegal action. The Honduran mainstream press remains heavily censored. The US press aka Rupert Murdock’s “Wall Street Journal” openly supports this illegal action with biased news reports and through its editorial pages. However, please remember that that those who are not in favor of the Honduran military’s actions to remove the President face reprisals and even death. Is it any wonder that you cannot hear their voices?
Any group that kidnaps an elected President, his Foreign Minister, Patricia Rodas, and terrorizes others cannot be considered as legal defenders of a constitution.
Thanks to Lawrence Lihosit (Hondusas 1975-77) for facilitating this post.
The vote is this week on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State/Foreign Operations. We really have one more day to call. Senator Leahy is the key person. If you are from his state call 802.863.2525 and tell him you vote!
Otherwise, call the Washington, D.C. number (and tell them you are moving to Leahy’s hometown) and that you vote. Tell the Senator’s office to vote to increase the Peace Corps budget; tell the person who answers the phone that America needs a bold Peace Corps world wide.
p.s. If you have called, call again. It won’t hurt!
Here’s a thought….what if the President, in a show of bipartisanship, picks Sarah Palin as our next Peace Corps Director? Obama has a habit of taking ‘potential’ Republican candidates and liberal Republicans into his Administration. [Well, she is not liberal, but she has potential to run against him]. Also, she is versed in international affairs…not only can she see Russia from her home, she recently got her first passport.
Sarah has about as much experience as some past Directors….Nick Craw (1973-74) raced sports cars and had a trust fund; Loret Ruppe (1981-89) had been to Europe (after college) before she was appointed, but she had never been a Governor; Dick Celeste (1979-81) was a Governor and an Ambassador, but only after he was Peace Corps Director; he was, however, a Rhodes Scholar; Coverdell (1989-91) was a state senator; Gearan(1995-990) had a passport (I think) and did work on the Hill; Elane Chao (1991-92) was born in Taiwan, but hadn’t done anything internatonal until she took over the Peace Corps; Gaddi Vasquez (2002-06)was a cop, but he had been a tourist in Mexico.
So, it’s not out of the question that Sarah could be our next Director…as it appears no one wants the job! It has been, after all, 169 Days since President Obama’s Inauguration Day!
And using my list of qualifications for the next Director, she is qualified. Sarah likes to camp out; she likes to fish and hike. And you betcha….she can change a tire on a 4-wheel drive.
Senator Patrick Leahy has done much to advance American democracy. When it comes to issues of civil liberties or governmental abuse, he has been there standing stalwart and often alone. That is something that all 195,000 returned Peace Corps volunteers and all Americans concerned with their country’s role in the world must remember, as in the next few days, with the Senate Mark-Up scheduled for Thursday, July 9th, the Senator will have the power to give birth to a bold new Peace Corps or possibly to destroy that dream forever.
As Chairman of the State Foreign Operations and Related Programs subcommittee , Senator Leahy has enormous power, and usually what he says goes. Thursday, he can vote for the robust funding of $450 million that will send young Americans out to the most remote archipelagos of Indonesia, carrying a message that Americans are the children of freedom, not of empire. He can vote $450 million so that Americans will go back to Vietnam a reborn people, reaching out to help not grasping the weapons of war. He can vote so that the villages of Sierra Leone will fill with the laughter of volunteers as they teach skills necessary in our complex world. He can vote a full appropriation that will give the new Peace Corps director money for the necessary reforms in an often troubled bureaucracy. He can vote the $450 million that his colleagues in the House of both parties have voted for. He can vote the robust funding that 37 of his fellow senators have implored him to approve.
Or the Senator can turn against the bold, new Peace Corps and settle for the $374 million in the administration’s bill. He can vote for an end to the bold new Peace Corps before it has even begun. He can pull our flag back from the 20 new countries asking for volunteers. He can end the important reforms. There is less than a week before the historic decision.
There are those around Senator Leahy who say that he is upset with the Peace Corps and is not about to give the agency a major appropriation. They say he is mad because the Peace Corps hasn’t answered his questions. But there is a new President and this is a new time, and his questions will be answered. They say he is upset that there aren’t enough volunteers in strategically important countries. He is right and that is why this money is needed. They say that he argues that the Peace Corps needs major reforms. He is right and that is why Senator Chris Dodd last week offered an important bill setting out an agenda of reform and growth in a bold new Peace Corps. They say he is mad that the Peace Corps has not fulfilled the vision set out half a century ago by President John F. Kennedy. He is right and that is why the Peace Corps must be given the funding needed.
It is up to us in the next few days to contact Senator Leahy and let him know how important it is that he support the full appropriation to the Peace Corps. Each one of us before July 9th, must call his Burlington office at 802-863-2525 and his DC office at 202-224-4242, and leave a positive message asking him to be true to this bold new Peace Corps.
If you have called, call again.
But constituents or those with a Vermont connection have an even greater responsibility, because they will be listened to even more closely than others. Each one of us must tell our friends and neighbors to call. And we’ll call not out of anger and alarm, but out of a firm belief that Senator Leahy will champion our new Peace Corps. And when he does, we will have an obligation to make sure that the money is spent well and carefully, and that Sarge Shriver’s immortal vision of a great army of Peace Corps volunteers transforming the world, will finally become a reality.
About John Coyne Babbles
John Coyne Babbles is a collection of comments, opinions, musings, and outrages from this RPCV who served with the first group (1962-64) in Ethiopia.
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