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Don't Wait for Washington 

Letter to the editor

During every campaign, we often hear about how the candidates are going to do "this, that and the other thing about something." Often that 'something' is an issue that is important for the moment: the economy, national defense and the war on terror, or healthcare. Sometimes, the issues are important to specific groups: the environment, homelessness, or hunger. We then vote for candidates who best meet our individual desires in addressing those issues for the country's future.

I do not wish to belabor the point that we often vote for change, but we then wonder why we are still faced with many of the issues we thought would be addressed by Washington or Salem. Government programs have been fighting poverty for many decades, and yet poverty still exists. I remember hearing about how, "Johnny can't read" back when I was in high school. More than 30 years later, illiteracy is still a major social issue. Is it because government programs have failed to address those issues that are important, or is it that government can only do so much?

President William (Bill) Clinton said, "Though government has an important role to play in meeting the many challenges that remain before us, we are coming to understand that no organization, including government, will fully succeed without the active participation of each of us. Volunteers are vital to enabling this country to live up to the true promise of its heritage."

And President Ronald Reagan said, "No matter how big and powerful government gets, and the many services it provides, it can never take the place of volunteers."

And President John F Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

If we truly want something done, we, as individuals and as a collective society have to do more than just vote for change. We need to get re-involved in our communities and our nation. However, civic engagement, including volunteerism, declined significantly over the last three decades of the 20th century. Although there was a boost immediately after September 11th, we are still far from being engaged. Less than 30 percent of Americans formally volunteered in 2008. Even if we factor in informal and episodic volunteerism, i.e. helping a neighbor or a friend, over 40 percent of adult Americans do not volunteer.

We can sit and speculate as to why Americans are not engaged. In his 2000 book Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam outlines some reasons for the decline in civic engagement that include a highly transitory lifestyle and advances in electronic entertainment. In a study published by The Corporation for National and Community Service, one major reason Americans don't volunteer is that they have not been asked by someone they trust, while another reason is a concern about making a time commitment.

Consider this an invitation from a friend; I don't ask for a lot of time.


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