Freedom Plaza, across from city hall in Washington, D.C., is presently the camp site for Occupy Wall Street, the anti-corporate greed campaign sweeping the nation. While I have no philosophical problems with the protest agenda, I do resent the fact that their use of the Plaza has displaced the morning calisthenics of the Washington cadre of City Year volunteers.
I looked forward each morning to passing the broad expanse of the Plaza and to hearing the staccato sound of exercising feet, drill instructor orders and congratulatory applause. There was something very satisfying in the vibrant voices and the hearty laughter of the young people preparing for their day of service as part of City Year.
The City Year program is part of AmeriCorps. To achieve their mission of community service and civic leadership, they serve in schools to help improve student performance and reduce the dropout rate. Corps members operate in 21 cities across America and in two cities abroad.
My hope is that the space at Freedom Plaza can be shared by the protestors and the City Year staff. In essence, their message is the same. One group is chanting for “less of corporate greed and more for human needs.” The other is diligently putting into practice the behaviors of good public service and civic virtue.
Those obsessed with the federal budget deficit will scoff that everything under AmeriCorps (City Year, National Civilian Community Corps and VISTA) deserves to be eliminated as a federal responsibility. But you’d be hard pressed to make that argument in any one of the thousands of communities where AmeriCorps staffs are making a real difference in the lives of so many people.
I’m just idealistic enough to be inspired by the sight of those red and black jackets with CITY YEAR emblazoned on the back. I’d be a proud parent if my child ever earned the right to wear one.