Communications Intern posted an articleCOVID-19 puts a pause on Peace Corps Capitol Hill visits see more
Unprecedented times, yes. But history still offers a few pointers.
By Jonathan Pearson
Over many years with National Peace Corps Association, I have navigated the corridors and rooms of Capitol Hill to attend meetings, drop off documents, or prepare event logistics. This includes countless visits to the venerable Russell Senate and Cannon House Office Buildings, constructed in the early 1900s. Walking the hallways in quiet moments at the close of a day, I’ll often reflect on the history of these buildings. On the granite staircases, one can literally feel the sunken impressions worn into the stone by millions of people who have climbed this same path over nearly 120 years. It sparks wonder and humility, thinking of all who have been here before — and the titanic issues that brought them, shaping our nation.
Sixty years ago, Sargent Shriver and Bill Moyers were part of that history. Their task: convince Congress to appropriate funds and formally establish the Peace Corps, created months earlier through an executive order issued by President John F. Kennedy.
Journeywork: Sargent Shriver, center, arriving in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar), May 1961. Global meetings led nations to invite the first groups of Volunteers. Legwork in Congress led to the legislation that established the Peace Corps. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
Today, the Peace Corps community must follow in the footsteps of these and many other predecessors. Just as in 1961, Peace Corps’ future is at stake in 2021. As we prepare for this journey, we are fortunate to have history as a guide, including excerpts from the quintessential biography Sarge by Scott Stossel.
Peace Corps legend has it that between them Moyers and Shriver personally called on every single member of Congress … Shriver and Moyers launched each day with a breakfast on Capitol Hill with several congressmen. Following breakfast they would wander the congressional office buildings, going from appointment to appointment, preaching the gospel of the Peace Corps.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, will momentarily prevent us from literally following in the footsteps of Shriver and Moyers. Yet it was not merely their physical presence but rather their relentless determination that ultimately carried the day for groundbreaking Peace Corps legislation. And with 21st-century tools at our disposal — email, smartphones, social media, laptops, Zoom conferences — we can and must be equally relentless from our living rooms and kitchen tables.
“One night I was leaving about seven-thirty and there was Shriver walking up and down the halls looking into the doors. He came in and talked to me. I still didn’t like the program but I was sold on Shriver—I voted for him.”
A key to success in advocacy is to build relationships with your lawmakers as a knowledgeable, credible voice for Peace Corps. Our 50 advocacy coordinators around the country and growing number of identified “grasstops” leaders who have direct connections to lawmakers are foundational to our advocacy mobilization. And we must continue to grow these groups across every region of the country.
One night, Shriver and Moyers were walking the halls and came upon the office of Barry Goldwater, the notoriously conservative senator from Arizona … Moyers told (Shriver) not to bother, that they had no chance of winning over Goldwater. Shriver recalls “I said, ‘Well I’m sure that we’re not going to get him if we never even ask him.’ So we rapped on the door and went in and fortuitously he was there and willing to talk to us. We talked for an hour at which he said, ‘That sounds like a great idea. I’ll vote for it.’”
I regularly remind advocates that meetings with less supportive lawmakers are the most important of all. Over time, such meetings have yielded numerous instances where personal outreach has resulted in an unexpected victory — or, at the very least, a neutralized opposition to the work Peace Corps does. Consider the summer of 2019, when more than 10,000 messages were sent to Congress in one week to successfully oppose a House amendment that included a one-year elimination of the Peace Corps appropriation. A year later, amid staggering unemployment, enormous economic stimulus efforts and skyrocketing deficits, amendments to the House appropriations bill included no proposed cuts to Peace Corps.
As August (1961) approached it became apparent that the biggest obstacle to (passing Peace Corps legislation) was not, for the moment, Republicans hostile to foreign assistance but rather the indifference of Arkansas senator William Fulbright, who chaired the all-important Foreign Relations Committee. Fulbright was a Democrat and for the most part friendly to the administration, but he was highly skeptical about the Peace Corps’ potential effectiveness.
Among both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, Peace Corps has many friends. Nearly 40 percent of Congress signed 2020 letters supporting strong Peace Corps funding. Nevertheless, we are entering a challenging period when many important domestic and international issues will be competing for congressional attention and support. In the 40 years since the first RPCVs began serving in Congress, 2021 will mark the low point with John Garamendi as the only serving RPCV. It is imperative that Peace Corps supporters in Congress increasingly become Peace Corps champions, placing successful redeployment high on their priority list. That said, the Peace Corps has its skeptics who will question parts of its mission. There are fiscal conservatives who will push back on Peace Corps funding. And we continue to live in an age of hyperpartisanship.
In March (1963) the New York Times columnist James Reston had written … “The Peace Corps … stands above the rest as the only thing new and vigorous that has managed to avoid the pessimism of intractable problems.”
Just as the Peace Corps was new and invigorating in the early 1960s, the year 2021 presents an unparalleled opportunity to renew the agency, inspire once more the next generation of Volunteers, and recapture the imagination of the general public. Much has changed in the past 60 years, and the need for transformation and improvements within the Peace Corps — as expressed by hundreds of community members during town halls, a global ideas summit, and conversations since — is reflected in the recent report presented to National Peace Corps Association, “Peace Corps Connect to the Future.” A copy is included in the Winter 2021 print edition of WorldView. We have been meeting with members of Congress, the transition team, and the agency to bring these ideas into action.
This existential moment for Peace Corps will require extraordinary engagement. There remains enormous untapped potential within our own community. We must all seize this moment of renewal and reform. It will not come our way again.
Jonathan Pearson is the Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Micronesia 1987–89. Ready to step up? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleAre your elected representatives going to be key in shaping the future of the Peace Corps? see more
Key leadership positions pertaining to Peace Corps policies are beginning to take shape in the new 115th Congress.
In the House of Representatives, Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) is the new Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, replacing Hal Rogers (R-KY). Rogers, meanwhile, is assuming the critical role of chairing the Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, which has jurisdiction over Peace Corps funding. Nita Lowey (D-NY) remains as the Ranking Member for the subcommittee and full committee.
Four new members have been named to the Senate Appropriations Committee. They are Marco Rubio (R-FL), John Kennedy (R-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Membership on the Senate State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee has not yet been announced, though the subcommittee will again be led by Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Leahy is the new Ranking Member of the full committee, which will continue to be chaired by Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS).
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee also has four new members. They are Todd Young (R-IN), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Corey Booker (D-NJ). Assignments for the Peace Corps Subcommittee have not yet been announced.
More than ten new representatives have been added to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Top leadership remains the same with Ed Royce (R-CA) serving as the committee chair, and Eliot Engel (D-NY) as the ranking member. For the Foreign Affairs subcommittee that deals with Peace Corps policy, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) remains as subcommittee chair, while Karen Bass (D-CA) remains as subcommittee ranking member.
If your representatives are on any of these key committees, take the following action:
- Visit the lawmaker's House or Senate website to find their comment form, or call the Capitol Hill switchboard (202-225-3121) and ask to be connected to their office.
- Congratulate your lawmaker for serving on the Appropriations or Foreign Affairs/Foreign Relations Committee.
- Express your strong support for the Peace Corps, and urge your lawmaker to take positive actions that strengthen and support the Peace Corps.
Support NPCA Advocacy:
In addition to your action, NPCA staff will be regularly going to Capitol Hill, representing you, and prioritizing meetings with key committee leaders, to ensure the future of a strong and vibrant Peace Corps. Donate now to fuel our efforts. Thank you!
Charlotte Rohrer posted an articleOur featured advocate wanted to join the Peace Corps when interning at NPCA. Now, she's on her way! see more
By Megan Gilmore
Back in November, the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) collaborated with the Service Year Alliance to promote “Let Us Serve”, a nationwide call-in advocacy effort to prioritize service opportunities in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget. Our thanks to everyone who participated in this campaign, through which both Peace Corps and AmeriCorps alumni teamed up to provide personal testimony on the importance of service.
Among the many callers was Danna Kasom, our featured advocate for the month of December, whose upcoming Peace Corps placement will fulfill her goal of serving our nation both at home and abroad. It was a placement that required passion, patience and persistence.
From Service to Advocacy
Danna’s commitment to service began in 2014 while working at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) National Processing Service Center in Maryland, as a Disaster Survivor Assistance Specialist with AmeriCorps. Having grown up in the Detroit area, Kasom felt a personal connection to her work as she found herself registering citizens for federal aid who were effected by the August 2014 Detroit flood. She never anticipated how her service would lead her on a path towards advocacy.
In her position, Kasom oversaw the lengthy and oftentimes ineffective federal aid process for those whose homes and businesses had been devastated by flooding. She recalls how FEMA was slow to react to the need for working furnaces and winter supplies for those living in Detroit, “Considering…the time it took to get a damaged furnace replaced, and the time of year the disaster was declared in such a state like Michigan...left many Detroiters without heat for the months of October, November, and December.”
Discontent with how FEMA handled the disaster, Danna felt responsible to do more for her hometown. “I was unsatisfied and curious with the way something was being handled and reached out to a policy maker at FEMA Headquarters to seek answers.” Instances like this kick-started Kasom’s interests in advocacy.
Another reason for her interest in advocacy? Despite her strong credentials, Danna was among thousands of Peace Corps applicants who - despite being qualified for service - were not selected because of limited funding. That didn't stop her from trying, and that's what brought her to Washington.
Before an internship with NPCA's advocacy program, Danna spent time interning on Capitol Hill for the offices of congressmen Dan Benishek (R-MI) and Sam Johnson (R-TX). She is no stranger to how advocacy works and how even one person’s voice has the capacity to influence legislation. Danna’s participation during NPCA's National Day of Action last March perfectly exemplifies this. “I was delighted to hear that Congressman Benishek, whom I had previously interned for, had signed the Peace Corps funding Dear Colleague letter. In the meeting, I had explained the importance of the Peace Corps to the community of my alma mater, Michigan Tech.” This marked the first time Congressman Benishek ever signed a Peace Corps funding letter and represents a prime example of successful advocacy in action.
Why Advocacy Matters
Danna says advocacy efforts to support organizations like Peace Corps are crucial because they not only invest in young adults’ futures, but also provide a person-to-person cultural exchange that fosters diplomacy and understanding. Since national service programs like Peace Corps have become increasingly competitive due to the highest number of applications in decades, this results in more qualified individuals being sent to serve. Advocacy to increase funding for the Peace Corps lends to this competitiveness and allows more competent people to promote peace, cultural understanding, and meet the development needs of host countries. At the same time, advocacy to expand service opportunities helps to make sure that thousands of qualified Peace Corps applicants are not turned away due to insufficient funds.
Danna advocates for Peace Corps and other national service programs because they “are investments in our country’s efforts to address our differences instead of exploit them." She says citizen advocacy presents solid opportunities for people to experience what "making a difference" entails.
There and Back Again
Danna’s transition from service to advocacy has led her back to her desire to serve others. This February, she will join the Peace Corps in Madagascar as a Community Health Advisor. We wish her the best of luck and our thanks for making organizations like Peace Corps the best they can be!
Support NPCA's advocacy efforts in 2017! Donate now to help shape the future.
Megan Patrick posted an articleCheck out Capitol Hill Advocacy Day 2016 see more
Team Michigan en route to tell members of Congress that America and the world need a bigger, better Peace Corps.
Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA), RPCV Colombia, speaks to the value of the Peace Corps and the need to invest in America's greatest institution.
(L to R) Jesse Bailey, RPCV Morocco; Skido Achulo, Embassy of Ghana; Congressman James P. McGovern (D-MA); David Magnani, RPCV Sierra Leone; and Natalie Hall, RPCV Thailand.
Minnesota constituents meet with Congressman Rick Nolan (D-MN) (center).
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) (center) meets with constituent Judith Gaddie and fellow RPCV Dorie Hagler.
Longtime Peace Corps advocate Richard MacIntyre (2nd from right) is the first winner of NPCA’s Advocate of the Year Award.
Team Illinois (L to R) John Baird, Marnie Tisue, Ella Lacey and Patricia Mertz prepare for a full day of advocacy meetings.
Team North Carolina with the office of Senator Richard Burr (R-NC).
After meeting with Ashland, Oregon RPCVs David Drury and Asifa Kanji, Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) became a co-sponsor of the Sam Farr Peace Corps Enhancement Act.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) speaks with Minnesota constituents along with the 2016 Harris Wofford Awardee, Ibrahima Sankare, on Peace Corps' impact in Mali.
Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) (above left), along with Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX), were recipients of NPCA’s 2016 Sam Farr Congressional Leadership Award.
Dozens of thank you cards were written to lawmakers and their staff at NPCA's afternoon staging area.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) meets with RPCV constituents David Drury and Asifa Kanji.
(L to R) National service champion and former Senator Harris Wofford, Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA) and Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY).
Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX) and Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet.
Senator Dick Durbin's (D-IL) staff meets with Team Illinois
A leader of the newly revitalized Magnolia State RPCVs, L. Patricia Ice, makes the case for a strong Peace Corps with Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS).
The head of the Hawaii RPCVs, Caroline Mackenzie, spent a half-hour meeting with Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI).
Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA) meets with southern California RPCVs Sean Anderson and Rosemary Straley.
Skido Seidu Sullman Achulo, Embassy of Ghana, and Natalie Hall, RPCV Thailand, met with Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).
Participants of the 2016 Capitol Hill Advocacy Day organize before setting out for their respective meetings.
Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA), NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst, Tiffany Brownley-Meijer, and Ibrahima Sankare.
NPCA was proud to accompany the 2016 Harris Wofford Awardee, Ibrahima Sankare, to Capitol Hill.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) speaks with Minnesota constituents.
Former NPCA President Chic Dambach presents Richard MacIntyre with NPCA’s Advocate of the Year Award.
Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) (2nd from left) meets with RPCVs (L to R) Judith Gaddie, Susan Stine and Dorie Hagler.
NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst thanks Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) for her leadership on Peace Corps issues.
Team Minnesota prepares for a meeting with the office of Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
In more than 250 meetings, our advocates spoke passionately for increased Peace Corps funding and improvements to Peace Corps health services.
NPCA Advocacy staff J.M. Ascienzo and Jonathan Pearson, address attendees at an end-of-day celebratory reception.
Arkansas RPCV Albert Flaig Jr. (center) and other members of the Peace Corps community meet with Congressman Steve Womack (R-AR) (2nd from left)
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) (second from left) often meets RPCVs at his constituent coffees. During the 55th anniversary of Peace Corps, he met with (L to R) Eloise Campbell, Tabitha Barr, Katherine Crosson and Thomas Skeldon.
How can you continue making an impact? By supporting NPCA. Donate to the Community Fund to ensure the community can advocate for a bigger, better Peace Corps.