Barack Obama: The Community Organizer in Chief

"The more Obama worked as an organizer, the more he became convinced that the most serious problems he confronted couldn't be solved on the local level."
 (Excerpt from a 2007 Chicago Tribune article quoting Gerald Keller, who hired Obama as a 23-year-old community organizer in Chicago in 1985.) 

Barack Obama's national plan for voluntary community service clearly illustrates his audacious goal to become the Nation's Community Organizer. 

"Barack Obama's Plan For Universal Voluntary Citizen Service" is subtitled "Helping All Americans Serve Their Country."  "Universal" and "All" are only slight exaggerations. As president, he'd offer voluntary service programs for everyone except pre-schoolers through 5th grade.  A substantial cafeteria of federal programs already serves this cuisine.  But Obama plans to lengthen the serving line, considerably.

Grab a tray and we'll sample some of his new dishes, plus some old plates he plans to enhance. 

Peace Corps

A favorite since 1961. Obama will double the Peace Corps by 2011. A doubled budget would be about $660,000,000.  He'll also give it an international flavor. (So who'll pay for this, do you think?)

"He will work with the leaders of other countries to build an international network of overseas volunteers so that Peace Corps volunteers work side-by-side with volunteers from other countries to address poverty, combat diseases."

Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)

This refers to a large entrée section, historically known by some of its most favorite dishes like AmeriCorps, VISTA and the Senior Corps. Since 1994, total budget appropriations (in 2007 dollars) add up to $12.6 billion, averaging $900 million per year. The CNCS annual budget has been declining since 2004.  But Obama plans to triple the scope of the CNCS's most popular dish -- AmeriCorps -- from 75,000 "slots" (participants involved) to 250,000.  Factor in a proportionate increase ($750 million) added to AmeriCorps funding allocated within the CNCS 2008 budget of $856 million, and the new CNCS budget in an Obama administration could double to about $1.6 billion.  But wait, there's more to add to that budget.

There are five new entrées planned for the CNCS: Classroom Corps where people can volunteer to help in "high-need and underserved schools;" Health Corps, where volunteers are "trained to assist health professionals;" Clean Energy Corps, where volunteers can "promote energy independence through efforts like weatherization, renewable energy projects and educational outreach;" Veterans Corps, where veterans are recruited to serve veterans in VA facilities, nursing homes, and homeless shelters;  and the Homeland Security Corps "to help communities plan, prepare for and respond to emergencies."  How much do they cost?

America's Voice Initiative

No, this isn't the familiar Voice of America. (What happens to it?) This is a new program where the U.S. Department of State will,

"...rapidly recruit and train Americans who are fluent speakers of local languages (Arabic, Bahasa Melayu, Farsi, Urdu, and Turkish) with public diplomatic skills.  These Americans will go overseas to ensure our voice is heard in the mass media and in our efforts on the ground."

Global Energy Corps

This new corps, "composed of scientists and engineers who will work with local partners overseas....  will help reduce greenhouse emissions overseas and promote low-carbon and affordable energy solutions in developing nations."  Think of it as the international version of the Clean Energy Corps mentioned above. 

You full yet? Keep sliding the tray down the line. We've just few dishes left to sample.

"Obama believes that middle and high school students should be expected to engage in community service for 50 hours annually during the school year or summer months."

What if some Independent School Districts don't want to participate? Are there any repercussions? Yes, there are.

"In November, Barack Obama laid out a comprehensive plan to provide all Americans with a world-class education and give our schools a substantial infusion of funds to support teachers and principals and improve student learning.  That plan conditions [sic] that assistance on [sic] school districts developing programs to engage students in service opportunities."

So, no school-based community service support, less federal aid to your school.  Perhaps on Saturday mornings we'll see platoons of high school kids shuffling down highway shoulders, wearing orange vests, shoving trash into garbage bags as they log their 50 hours and qualify their schools to get federal dollars.  (Any of you parents want to volunteer to drive that herd?)

College kids get the best deal. Obama's American Opportunity Tax Credit will essentially pay $40 per hour, up to $4,000 a year, for 100 hours of "public service."  Yes, you read that right.

"This fully refundable credit will endure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university. Recipients of this credit will be required to conduct 100 hours of public service a year, either during the school year or over the summer months."  (emphasis added)

Suppose you drop out of school. No problem. The Green Job Corps will offer you "service opportunities to improve energy conservation and efficiency of homes and buildings" right there in your neighborhood.  And, Obama will expand the YouthBuild Program that offers low-income young people a chance to "learn housing construction skills jobs and complete their high school education." The 2007 budget of this U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) program was $50 million.  Obama plans to increase its slots from 8,000 to 50,000, with a proportionate budget increase to about $300,000,000. (A few hundred million here and there, and pretty soon we're talking serious money.)

There are more dishes to sample, but you're full by now. And, by now, you're probably wondering how much all this will cost.  Obama estimates that, when fully implemented, his expanded cafeteria line of community service programs will cost about $3.5 billion per year. (Another example of fuzzy Obamath.) Additional funding is to come from increased taxes on "multinational corporations" and "savings associated with ending the war in Iraq." 

Now, you've been through the line.  So drop that tray, step away from the cashier, and put you hands on your wallet. Calculate the number of federal employees required to coordinate all these moving parts - with more corps than a bushel of apples.  Imagine a new government building near you, the County Federal Citizen Volunteer Coordinating Center (CFCVCC), where government service bureaucrats representing all these programs have their offices. Consider the electronic paperwork required to enlist, assign, and monitor volunteers, 365/24/7.  

Eventually, we'll need a National Coordinating Council For Federally Funded Community Service Programs (NCCFFFCSP) housed in a new, D.C. office building.  Perhaps someday a statue there will depict three middle school volunteers -- one leaning on a litter pick-up tool, another holding a full trash bag, the third a rake. 

Barack Obama is a community organizer and gifted orator who got a law degree so he could enter politics and address the social problems he couldn't solve in South Chicago.  In December 1995, as Obama prepared to run for the Illinois Senate, reporter Hank De Zutter of the Chicago Reader wrote an article entitled "What Makes Obama Run?"  His lead tells the story.

"Lawyer, teacher, philanthropist, and author Barack Obama doesn't need another career. But he's entering politics to get back to his true passion--community organization."

Obama's motive, according to De Sutter, was that he "wants to help create jobs and a decent future for those embittered youth" he encountered as a community organizer in Chicago's South Side.  De Sutter quotes Johnnie Owens, a man who worked with Obama in Chicago's Developing Communities Project, and who eventually replaced him as its director.  In 1995, Owens said,   

"It's as if it's his mission in life, his calling, to work for social justice."

De Sutter's entire article deserves reading.  It reveals what has changed most about Barack Obama in the last 13 years: the reach of his community organizing desires. 

Once he focused on a part of Chicago's South Side.

Today he aims to organize the United States of America, and places beyond.

Imagine that.