Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Creating a Service Nation

I. Creating a Service Nation

Are we in this together? Or are we simply changing the faces by installing a new regime with another agenda?

This is our time to let our voices be heard. President Obama has opened the blogosphere up so that everyday common people, like you and I, can submit our questions, concerns and opinions to regarding the economic recovery plan. They are begging us to participate, to ask questions and to voice our concerns. Sign up at Volunteer to host or attend an Economic Recovery Plan Meeting. Share your stories at

It is incumbent upon us to participate in the democratic process. This is no time to allow a few loud voices to drown out the chorus of other voices that are a rich part of the social fabric. We need to take ownership and responsibility for ourselves by welcoming everyone into the discussion. If we expect people to be held accountable for their circumstances by acting independent of government intervention, then we need to involve them in the process.

If America is truly dedicated to equal opportunity in this unprecedented time of economic crisis, we need to act big, and we need to act fast. We should be thinking in terms of equity, remembering that this is no time to allow the free market and the American people go any further into poverty and despair. All of our systems are collapsing on top of each other, and if we do not take swift and certain action, who will be left to pick up the pieces? The economic stimulus plan may be big, but drastic times call for drastic measures. With each passing day, more and more Americans lose their employer based health coverage and move closer towards indigence and indignity. This dangerous, vicious cycle bleeds people of their sense of self-efficacy, and move closer into the state of despair and indifference.

As someone who is actually ahead of the curve when it comes to being unemployed in and in a permanent of economic crisis, I was thrilled to see the grassroots movement come to the forefront of the political action and community service. However, I recently had an experience that was so disturbing and “transparent” that I am almost considering registering as a Republican in the next election.

What could possibly make a lifelong Democrat change her stripes so quickly? Read on, and maybe later I will revise this note since it has become as much a thorn in my claw, and I fear my health insurance may not cover character assassination…

Long-term viability of a grassroots effort depends only upon their ability to transform themselves into an independent, self-sustaining community through partnerships with the business and faith based communities. Inter-organizational partnerships are only viable if volunteer activities and recognized and graciously accepted as a valid form of contribution without reservation, and welcome whatever contribution an individual person or agency is of willing to make.

By imposing limits on membership or by excluding others by through the strategic placement of gatekeepers is not just politically incorrect, it is self-promoting and transparent. Are we in this together? Or are we simply changing the faces by installing new guards for another agenda.

This contradicts the mission and purpose of a legitimate grassroots movement and serves only to raise questions about the legitimacy of what now appears to be a self-promoting, transparent agenda. Discouraging participation of any member of the community, no matter how small is a mistake. However, to do that it in terms of a formal, exclusionary policy, you not only de-value the individual, but you make a mockery of the democratic process and grassroots effort.

Each contribution that is made should not only be welcomed, but also celebrated. Long-term viability relies upon our ability to create a culture of giving and public service. In order to create effective policies, one goal should be to shift the focus on “volunteer” efforts through community partnerships that serve to empower individuals by legitimizing their volunteer activities and supporting those efforts.

Current policies mandate a certain number of work credits if a person is to remain eligible and in receipt of public funds. Well this just does not work anymore, because there simply are no more jobs to be found. It is important to recognize that everyone has different strengths and if we expect to function as a community, we must allow everyone to contribute and feel as though they have a role in formulating the communities we are building.

By minimizing past efforts or requiring that participants meet a certain criteria, you risk losing whatever contribution he or she may be able to make-- now and in the future. There is more at stake than just the immediate economic crisis. We need to establish a culture of giving by allowing people to take ownership in themselves and their communities. If we are truly to become a service nation, we must recognize volunteer activities as a legitimate contribution and recognize that there are many ways a person can help to build strong communities.

We need to create a way to formulate policies to include a component of good-faith efforts as a measure independent of membership dues to reflect a more progressive movement towards unity, youth empowerment, and recognize outreach efforts to both empower and promote the disenfranchised and the poor. Strategic alliances are built upon a number of independent, informal networks of people that not only cross-promote, but self-promote independent efforts and affiliations.

Right now, we need to gain access through whatever means necessary, and go banging on doors that have previously been closed to us. We must draw in those who are disenfranchised, and not chastise them for being that way. We need to open our doors and be prepared for whatever walks in, whenever it walks in. This world is changing quickly for some, but too slow for others.

Formalizing current arrangements requires recognizing the both formal and informal outreach efforts by reinforce the partnerships and alliances that currently exist. We want to engage, involve, encourage participation from all people… not just those on the forefront of the political landscape, but also those who are just now emerging as a sign of the times.

We must reach out to people from all walks of life regardless of religion, race, financial, social and political standing

Political strategists must abandon the “divide and conquer” routine. Efforts to and destroy the opposition must now be replaced with a culture of understanding and acceptance through mutual respect and admiration. This is not the time to point fingers, take sides or calculate risk.

The writing is on the wall, folks. We have already lost too much. Now it is time to rebuild.

Sustainability and viability of any emerging political, community, and values-based partnerships will not thrive unless truly embrace the culture of change; you must embrace the concept the concept not just in public, but in private as well.

Of this, I am sure.

Community action and empowerment requires more than just the ability to raise funds or get media attention. The attention needs to refocus and reorganize to include the public who are seeking more than just 15 minutes of awareness. There are in fact people out there who believe in the grassroots movement as one of social awareness and awakening, rather than one that looks just too a little too much like political ambition.

Grassroots activism is a way of life. It is a movement that by its very definition will only pass muster by reaching out to all people, not just those who can support your cause. There is more than one way that people can contribute to support of individuals and is not all about money.

Many things factor in when we consider theories of motivation; most people will never know or reveal the reasons that compel others to change. It is not always the decision to act, but the decision not to that leaves many of us without a safety net.

I received an e-mail in response to a volunteer commitment I had made only to learn that my voluntary contribution of “time” was not necessary. Not only was it unnecessary, but it was in fact, unwelcomed.

Holy Crap, did that one take me for a loop.

Let me assure you that in one fell swoop, this sentiment did more than discourage my participation and commitment to change; it devalued the fundamental message of empowerment you [the agency] claims as their own.

Without provocation, such a statement managed to kill and pervert the core message of the grassroots movement. It will likely prevent me from embracing the new “culture of change” since it devalues the fundamental belief the grassroots movement and function in this new administration. By rejecting donations, or only accepting donations that come with a pledge of financial aid, question the sincerity behind or ability to effect a change without actually believing in it. So I now moved a place of hope to a place of change… right out of the “grassroots” movement.

Actions speak louder than words, both in theory and in practice.

You would be smart to tap into the rich array of community resources by identify, embrace, and encourage sources of raw talent by recognizing the great potential that may already exist in its various forms throughout community. These are the individuals, the untapped resource, often with their finger on the pulse of the city because they have learned by doing. We should by no means minimize their efforts by rejecting their contributions as a valid and legitimate effort.

Are we in this together? Or are we simply changing the faces by installing new guards for another agenda. By publicly rejecting any one idea or contribution of a potential donor, such a statement will discourage others to volunteer. Such a statement is self-promoting and transparent.

II. Posturing for Power

This summarizes my experience working with the best of the best and the worst of the worst. When it comes to my experience working as a volunteer, I have been an outreach specialist for longer than I can remember. I do have several small affiliations tangential to the mainstream politics; however, this is my experience as an independent, volunteer, and a foot soldier in the battlefield of life, poverty and unemployment, I developed transitional affiliations to the city’s mainstream when they seek to redefine themselves by posturing for power. In the midst of this economic crisis in the “spirit of change”, many locals are lining up to be the next great leader or trying to maintain their footing in this new era of community empowerment and change.

My outreach efforts and volunteer activities are often undervalued and criticized by others who view my work as “hobbies” or “play” My impact to and abilities are often perceived to be of little value or consequence. I work as a foot soldier who is trying to get by on a total monthly income $615.00. In a feeble attempt at self-preservation, I “work” as a volunteer in the community to maintain trying to empower the others, to enhance and enrich the lives of others, and have tried to debunk the myth that all people on welfare are “like this,” or “like that”

I am not paid. I do not get donations. I do not get special privileges or access. I get information.

This has allowed me to understand the nuances that can build a person or destroy a city and they are very much interrelated and equally important.

If the grassroots movement is to survive, it must transition from a community force in action and should acknowledge the fact that it is easier to get the public’s attention than it is to retain. To gain and establish independence, a group or agency must be able to target, identify, and engage persons with legitimate professional interests by installing a network of people that both support and legitimize each other in the various public forums. Membership and involvement depends upon both the legitimacy and integrity of the structure, as well as the ability to translate social theories into legitimate social constructs that compels others to "buy in" to the community.

Evolving into an independent agency through community partnerships is more difficult than launching a campaign based on outrage and emotion. Immediate actions must now be replaced with a permanent fixture and institutional structure that encourages long-term participation independent of the intermittent conflicts that serve to disrupt the political process.

To deny people membership or access is more than just rude, it can be hurtful.

It discourages individuals from participating in the political process, which translates apathy and complacency. Furthermore, taking ownership of one’s successes and failures is a critical component of both personal and professional accountability. It allows for finger pointing and scapegoating, and just makes you look like an ass.

It benefits all of us to graciously accept whatever contribution people are willing or able and able to make. It does not reflect well on a "grass-roots movement" to take a "members only position" by excluding, condemning or refusing service or time commitments from volunteers.

Minimizing contributions and efforts of those not in, a position to give debunks the very thing you are selling, “$x.oo,” That notion that any contribution, no matter how small is not welcomed.

Volunteer efforts are a critical and valuable to involve them in the process of so that we can empower those who will be affected by whatever policy is developed for economic recovery.

Do not silence me. Do not silence others. I personally want to encourage each one of you to voice your concerns. It is imperative for us to be heard.

Obama need our help. America needs our help. Let us make this the country we are proud to call home. Let this be a new beginning for us all, and let us make this a land of real opportunity.


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Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.