Those Were The Days! RPCVs Shut Down The Peace Corps

Jack Prebis (Ethiopia 1962-64) who was later an APCD in Ethiopia (1965-67) sent me this photo from his days working in ACTION. This ‘sit in’ happened in 1975, I believe. RPCVs  were protesting Nixon/Ford Administration cutting the Peace Corps budget. Some Volunteers occupied Peace Corps offices when the agency was located in its original site, the Maiatico Building at 806 Connecticut  Ave. They hung banners out the windows. The office then closed and the staff went home. No one called the police.

The head of ACTION at the time was Mike Balzano. Balzano was an avid Nixon supporter. Walking down the halls one time, he was heard to say “I can just smell the hate the RPCVs have for me in the air.”

Balzano made a concerted effort  (complete with mandatory seminars and questionnaires) to ID and get rid of the Kennedyites and fill the Peace Corps with folks of his own political ilk. He personally interviewed potential staff, even for entry level positions. He questioned a secretarial applicant wanting to knew about her political beliefs, wanting to know if she voted Republican. (It might be that Democrats did the same, but I never heard of it.)

Some background on Balzano. He was a White House Staff Assistant from February 1972 through March 1973. He worked under Charles Colson on “blue-collar” and “white ethnic group” concerns. Balzano acted as a liaison between the Nixon Administration and various segments of the population, including labor, Catholics, Poles, Slovaks, Italians, Greeks, Ukranians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and other Eastern European groups. Nixon appointed Balzano head of ACTION in 1973. In August 1974, Nixon would resign his office, a victim of Watergate. Charles Colson, Michael Balzano’s good friend, and known as the “hatched man” in the  White House, would spent seven months in jail for his Watergate dealings. He would come out of jail a Christian.

While he was in the White House, Balzano monitored for Colson these groups and concerns: busing, crime, Eastern Europe, Radio Free Europe, patronage, ethnic representation in government, Nixon’s visit to the Soviet Union, Vietnam, the Ethnic Studies Heritage Programs Act, and the Higher Education Act. The 1972 election was also a focal point. The support of the various groups was seen as both a goal for Balzano and as a measure of the success of the Nixon Administration in the first term.

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  • How about another Peace Corps shutdown- this one caused by the budget debacle of 1995 – 1996. I can remember when we were all told to leave 6WTC (November or December shut down- not sure which) and we foolishly & yet refreshingly optimistically set up shop at the Tribeca Diner where we whiled away the afternoon playing cards.

    We were convinced it would be a matter of hours until we were back to work. 28 days of a shutdown and we were back up and running. Proud to say we were able to get most volunteers overseas that spring and summer without any major delays.

    Concetta

  • Concetta,
    This was an important moment in history! The Speaker of the House and the President were eyeball to eyeball in a very real
    constitutional crisis and Speaker Gingrich finally blinked. You are a witness to what the Peace Corps did during those days. Thank you for documenting what happened.

    There was another important political event and that was in 1970, The Committee Of Returned Volunteers, many of whom were RPCVs, occupied the Peace Corps offices to protest the Vietnam War. But, a new book that may be being used as a text book did not report the “sit-in” correctly. Charles T. Goodsell, author of “Mission Mystique: Belief SystemsIn Public Agencies” reported that the Peace Corps STAFF had done the sit-in. I have had voluminous corresponded with the author trying to point out his error. He has said that if there is a second edition, he will consider changing that. Meantime, students all over the country may be being taught during the Nixon administration, Peace Corps STAFF held a sit-in.

  • This brought back many of my own memories of the Peace Corps during the Nixon era under the direction of the hapless Joe Balzano, ex-garbage collector. I had an opportunity to go to Mali in 1977 as PCD, but I did not do so because of Joe and some of Nixon’s other stooges. The turning point for me was when PC/W asked me who I voted for in the last election. I astutely said Hubert Humphrey because he was one of the main people behind the founding of the Peace Corps.

    The final straw for me was when Balzano would not come to Africa because he was afraid of contracting unhealthy germs. For our Africa PCD conference in 1976, he had it moved from Accra, Ghana to Fez. Morroco because of his fear of germs. Obviously, these were dark days for the Peace Corps as Nixon almost killed it by tucking it inside of Action and putting many people from the domestic side (VISTA) in charge.

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