I like this question–Does the Peace Corps Really Matter?– and the conversations and discussions that it provokes. It brings the idea of the agency back to mind.
I have been hearing people since the Nixon years trashing the Peace Corps, all of us were ‘draft dodgers” Tricky Dick said. Eisenhower called us a “juvenile experiment,” and the Daughters of the American Revolution warned of a “yearly drain” of “brains and brawn…for the benefit of “backward, underdeveloped countries.” (A year after all of these “wise” pronouncements, Time magazine declared in a cover story that the Peace Corps was “the greatest single success the Kennedy administration had produced.”)
It is good for the agency when the whole idea of ‘The Peace Corps” is in the public currency. The problem today is that while the agency is ‘Mom’s apple pie’ in the minds of most Americans, the next question most Americans ask is: ‘Does the Peace Corps still exist?”
We know the majority of Americans are ignorant of the world beyond the borders of their home state. Oh, they (sort of) know Disneyworld is in Florida, but that is about it when it comes to geography. Where were they in seventh grade? The other day–this is in 2009!—a woman holding a senior position at the college where I work asked me where Liberia was.
So you cannot underestimate the lack of knowledge of the world possessed by ‘our fellow Americans.’ Many of them are still trying to find Iraq on a world map. So, lets not expect too much from our citizens locked away in the United States. Why, I still can’t see Alaska from my front porch perched high in the hills of upstate New York.
But back to my point, and I do have one.
How do we make the Peace Corps matter in America, and matter to Congress, our fund agency?
The other day I suggested on this blog that the Peace Corps appoint an Associate Director for the Third Goal. A senior level person with the job of rallying the assumed 200,000 of us back home, not only to come to D.C. for the 50thanniversary, but also to have these 200,000 throw their active support behind the agency, to grow the Peace Corps through their voting power in home districts across America. RPCVs by voting as a block, and getting their neighbors to join our cause, can make the point that America no longer influences the world through the barrel of a gun, and the work done by PCVs in the developing world is as important for our safety here at home as any army overseas.