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.