Why Won't the Peace Corps let RPCVs Speak?

I got an interesting email over the weekend from a woman friend who was an early PCV. She was responding to the posted I put up about the two events on March 17 that profiles the ‘founders’ of the agency. She made a valid point, speaking about the Peace Corps HQ panel discussion, saying: “With all due respect to these folks, do you find it as perplexing as I do that none of these  panels ever includes early Volunteers–there are some fairly accomplished people around town who were part of Ghana 1 or Chile 1 or Colombia 1 or even Philippines 1!

“I would think that audiences may want to know what it was like from the perspective of the Volunteer.  These guys–and you do notice that  with the exception of Mary Ann, they are all guys (shades of 1961) –provided lots of vision but they had little idea of the realities faced by the Volunteers of the first several years, the ones who made the Peace Corps work!!!” 

Well said. Perhaps the Peace Corps and the National Archives might not think of having ‘original’ PCVs at their panel on the evening of March 17–not realizing , but  you would think that the Peace Corps, with a director and deputy, both of whom are RPCVs, would let one or two RPCVs on the panel(s).

 So in an attempt to help out the Peace Corps, here are a few names of early RPCVs, all of whom were in their first groups overseas, in 1961, and all of whom live in D.C., so the Peace Corps won’t have to pay for them to travel to Washington. God knows, the Peace Corps wouldn’ want to spend any money!

Dennis Grubb (Colombia 1961-63) worked in Training and for Bob Gale, Recruitment.

Roger Landrum (Nigeria 1961-63) work in D.C. in Training, later produced Give Me A Riddle, the first Peace Corps film for recruitment. 

Maureen Carroll (Philippines 1961-63) first RPCV hired by Charlie Peters in Office of Evaluation.

Tom Scanlon (Chile 1961-63) did recruiting for the agency.

Gerogianna McGuire (Ghana 1961-63) Also did another tour in the Peace Corps. 

Roberta Kaplan (Sierra Leone 1961-63)

Billie Day–Sierra Leone (1961-63) A former DC teacher and now head of League of Women Voters in DC.

A few others from the Philippines 1961-63 group who live in greater Washington, D.C.: Claire Horan Smith. She lives near by in Columbia, MD. She could drive into town (and pay the gas herself!) so it won’t cost the Peace Corps any money; Evelyn Mittman Wrin; Patricia MacDermot Kasdan; Judith Cridler Claire; Ann Snuggs; Edmee Hawkes Pastpre.

Christina Lisi is the point person for the 50th in the Peace Corps. That is a small (temporary) office (a broom closet?) of 4-5 people and she is a Schedule C, a political appointment who, of course, is not an RPCV. She worked for Dodd and now she has a government job as pay-off and she is very nice and she is all excited about the National Archives event, “months in the make”…but because she isn’t a PCV, she doesn’t get how insulting it is for RPCVs to be passed over by young men and women, like herself, who weren’t even born when these first PCVs went to Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Philippines and half a dozen other countries when no one knew what they were walking into, or whether it would work, or how safe they would be out in the developing world.

Christina, it appears from speaking with her,  is doing everything by the numbers for this 50th Anniversaray and she is afraid of ‘crossing’ the Peace Corps lawyers. That’s too bad. When Shriver was the Director and he wanted to get something done, he gave it to Bill Josephson who was the GC at the time and Josephson figured out how to ‘scratch the law,’ as he would say at the time. I don’t know who the current crop of suits are in the GC’s office but I’d guess  none of them were PCVs (why get your hands dirty?) and all of them are government bureaucrauts holding now a GS Slots and covering their asses at every turn.

Now Christina and the Director’s office are too timid to bust a few balls. Oh, and they have plenty of excuses. It can’t be done. The lawyers say no. We have no money. Well, I’d suggest you get rid of these lawyers and hire a few who can get the job done.

I would ask someone in the Peace Corps building to ask Bill Josephson how to get things done when he appears on the 17th of March at HQ for the panel discussion. He’ll tell you. It was Josephson, by the way, who came up with the idea of how to fund the Peace Corps before it was acted into law. He found that there was authority for the Peace Corps in Section 400 of the Mutual Security Act of 1954. He told Shriver that if the Peace Corps could put Volunteers in the field and prove itself a success before Congress actually had to consider its legal permanence, its chance of survival would be measureably increased.

Of course there were risk (not that the Peace Corps lawyers today would take any; they are holding onto their office chairs with both hands) and Congrss might get pissed off at the Peace Corps for ‘jump starting’ the agency, but Josephson figured that the Peace Corps would be in a much less precarious position if it were a living body instead of just an idea. So, that is why we have a Peace Corps that 50 years later is giving all these ‘pencil-pushers’ a job in Washington so they can say ‘no’ to every idea that comes along from any RPCV in the room.

By the way, to help Christina and her merry band of organizers for the 50th Anniversary, send her your ideas. Her email is:clisi@peacecorps.gov

Also, Christina did promise me that ‘someday soon’ RPCVs will be hosted on panels at the agency, not, of course, at the National Archives!


Leave a comment
  • I don’t understand what are the “legal risks” to having RPCVs speak?
    Almost all the panels at Universities consist of RPCVs.

    It is entirely possible that the National Archives staff still don’t understand the difference between staff and Volunteer. It is all “Peace Corps.” Almost all the documents which the Archives staff would have reviewed are administrative papers from PC/DC.

  • I tend to agree with Joey, but then I’m a member of that tainted profession, despite also being an RPCV. I have bored several test holes in my rat-like lawyer brain to try to spot a legal issue with having RPCVs on a speakers’ panel without striking anything good. In my experience, however, non-lawyers occasionally imagine legal issues that aren’t there or use their in-house counsel as scapegoats.

    I have no factual basis on which to disparage Ms. Lisi or current administrators of the organization, but in my experience, public officials from the “political” (as opposed to the “career”) side of an organization tend to think in terms of how to make their current bosses look good in ways that further both the current boss and their own careers.

    As unfortunate an oversight as it may be to leave the pioneering volunteers out of the celebration at the National Archives, my impression is that much of the public fascination in the media with the agency’s early history revolves around the institution building and political moves in DC, with little attention to spare for what the volunteers in the field actually did. Far from Washington, where I grew up, those first RPCVs (not just the ones John mentions) made a huge impression on some of us who later served, and they deserve recognition.

  • I was making two points.

    One point is that HQ tend not to think first about RPCVs, but immediately go to ‘staff’ when they have such a panel. This is especially true in my experience when you have non-PCVs making the call.

    The legal issues are just the ‘attitude’ of government lawyers and have nothing to do with the panels, but with what the Peace Corps as an agency can and cannot do for the 50th Anniversary.


  • So, this is still America. Rent a room and create an alternative panel with the subject of your choice and the panelists you deem representative. Personally, I find it a bit offensive that everything is a private affair by invitation or affiliation. I would prefer guerilla theater in the streets, involving “the public.” Involve themes that are relavant to today’s Peace Corps. Poke fun at the powerful who still cling to the same old prejudices just as they did 50 years ago.

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