Senator Leahy Holds the Future of the Peace Corps in His Hands
On this most patriotic of holidays, it is only right to stop a minute to celebrate all that Senator Patrick Leahy has done to advance American democracy. When it comes to issues of civil liberties or governmental abuse, he has been there standing stalwart and often alone. That is something that all 195,000 returned volunteers and all Americans concerned with their country's role in the world must remember, as in the next few days, with the Senate Mark-Up scheduled for Thursday, July 9th, the Senator will have the power to give birth to a bold new Peace Corps or possibly to destroy that dream forever.
As Chairman of the State Foreign Operations and Related Programs subcommittee , Senator Leahy has enormous power, and usually what he says goes. Thursday, he can vote for the robust funding of $450 million that will send young Americans out to the most remote archipelagos of Indonesia, carrying a message that Americans are the children of freedom, not of empire. He can vote $450 million so that Americans will go back to Vietnam a reborn people, reaching out to help not grasping the weapons of war. He can vote so that the villages of Sierra Leone will fill with the laughter of volunteers as they teach skills necessary in our complex world. He can vote a full appropriation that will give the new Peace Corps director money for the necessary reforms in an often troubled bureaucracy. He can vote the $450 million that his colleagues in the House of both parties have voted for. He can vote the robust funding that 37 of his fellow senators have implored him to approve.
Or the Senator can turn against the bold, new Peace Corps and settle for the $374 million in the administration's bill. He can vote for an end to the bold new Peace Corps before it has even begun. He can pull our flag back from the 20 new countries asking for volunteers. He can end the important reforms. There is less than a week before the historic decision.
Whether or not you are a constituent, you must call Senator Leahy's Burlington office at 802-863-2525 and his DC office at 202-224-4242, and urge him to support the bold, new Peace Corps with $450 million in 2010.
There are those around Senator Leahy who say that he is upset with the Peace Corps and is not about to give the agency a major appropriation. They say he is mad because the Peace Corps hasn’t answered his questions. But there is a new President and this is a new time, and his questions will be answered. They say he is upset that there aren’t enough volunteers in strategically important countries. He is right and that is why this money is needed. They say that he argues that the Peace Corps needs major reforms. He is right and that is why Senator Chris Dodd last week offered an important bill setting out an agenda of reform and growth in a bold new Peace Corps. They say he is mad that the Peace Corps has not fulfilled the vision set out half a century ago by President John F. Kennedy. He is right and that is why the Peace Corps must be given the funding needed.
It is up to us in the next few days to contact Senator Leahy and let him know how important it is that he support the full appropriation to the Peace Corps. Each one of us before July 9th, must call his Burlington office at 802-863-2525 and his DC office at 202-224-4242, and leave a positive message asking him to be true to this bold new Peace Corps.
If you have called, call again.
But constituents or those with a Vermont connection have an even greater responsibility, because they will be listened to even more closely than others. Each one of us must tell our friends and neighbors to call. And we’ll call not out of anger and alarm, but out of a firm belief that Senator Leahy will champion our new Peace Corps. And when he does, we will have an obligation to make sure that the money is spent well and carefully, and that Sarge Shriver’s immortal vision of a great army of Peace Corps volunteers transforming the world, will finally become a reality.
Senator Leahy is from Vermont but this is a vote not just for the granite state, but for all of America and the world. Fax in a personalized version of this sample to 202-224-3479 (Senator Leahy's fax number):
The Sample Letter
Dear Senator Leahy,
You are the chairman of the Senate State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs appropriations subcommittee because you care profoundly about America’s role in the world. You stand on the subcommittee as a gatekeeper, helping to determine how America presents itself to the rest of the world. You have made many important votes in your life but none more crucial than that at the July 9, 2009 mark-up of the Foreign Operations Bill when you will be voting the appropriation for the Peace Corps.
I am one of several million Americans who hope that on that day you will vote in favor of an appropriation of $450 million which is the bare minimum needed to build a bold new Peace Corps. This is the amount that will allow the Peace Corps to grow, reform and innovate at a time when the US needs soft power initiatives to help restore US standing in the world. With this money hundreds of new volunteers will be able to head out to strategically important counties like Indonesia.
Your colleagues in the House listened to the fervent arguments from their constituents and thousands of other Americans, and in the end voted unanimously for the robust $450 million in a stellar act of bipartisanship. Their acts will never be forgotten by the 195,000 returned volunteers who yearn to see a Peace Corps that after half a century fulfills all that President John F. Kennedy hoped it would be. I hope that you will join them in their important vote. I also hope that you will consider becoming a cosigner of Senator Dodd’s bill, the Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act of 2009 that will create the underpinnings of this bold new Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps is neglected and under funded. In 2009, we will send fewer than 3,500 volunteers to the Peace Corps - less than half the number in 1966. Over twenty nations without Peace Corps missions including Indonesia, Vietnam, and Sierra Leone have requested new programs, but due to insufficient funds, Peace Corps cannot respond. In 2008 alone, over 13,000 people applied to become volunteers, a 16% increase over 2007. The number of minority applicants and applicants over the age of 50 also rose by double digits in the last year. The desire for Americans to serve internationally is matched by a long list of countries that want volunteers. This is an appropriate time to grow and revitalize Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps had a profound impact on my life and US community. I served in _______________.
I hope you share my view that the Peace Corps is a vital component of our public diplomacy toolbox. Since 1961, nearly 200,000 Peace Corps volunteers have provided meaningful, small-scale development assistance, reversing stereotypes about Americans and returning stateside to enrich communities domestically with new language and other skills. Peace Corps continues to be one of America’s finest expressions of friendship and solidarity across the globe.
We must work diligently to reinvigorate our foreign policy and not simple burnish America’s image but show the world the greatness and generosity of individual Americans. Investing in a bold new Peace Corps would help to reestablish our credibility and moral standing abroad, while exposing people to the core American values of peace, progress, tolerance and prosperity. It is for these reasons I urge you to support a $450 million Peace Corps appropriation on July 9.
I appreciate the ardent support you have provided to the Peace Corps in the past and welcome your support in the subcommittee.