A corps issue in election year

As I mentioned elsewhere winter storms have ravaged the east coast of America, including beaches at Budleigh Salterton's sister-town of Brewster on Cape Cod. http://budleighbrewsterunited.blogspot.com/2010/01/coastly-affair.html

At Paines Creek Landing they've set to work to repair the damage, led by Brewster's Natural Resources Department. A group made up of the Department's staff and volunteers filled 1,500 sandbags, stacking them around the boulders to protect the landing.

I learnt that they were joined by a crew of AmeriCorps. Much appreciated no doubt: "1500 bags at 50 pounds a bag is 75,000 pounds, or a good 25 yards of sand. Makes for a long day..." as the Department's blog reflects.

Picture credit: Brewster's Department of Natural Resources blog site. See below.

And what an apt name for an organisation that prides itself on tackling jobs like this, defending America.

For AmeriCorps members take the following pledge:

"I will get things done for America - to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done."

AmeriCorps is a network of national service programmes that offers more than 75,000 opportunities for Americans each year in volunteer service to meet critical needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment. Full-time members receive an education award of $4,725 to pay for college, graduate school, or to pay back student loans. http://www.americorps.gov/

With a General Election looming for the UK in 2010, we're going to hear a lot more about the concept. Politicians, notably Labour and Conservative, have been looking across the Atlantic in recent years to see how it works. Just before Christmas, the UK think-tank Demos published a pamphlet which suggests how a British equivalent might operate. "In recent years the idea of civic service has won support from across the political spectrum as a cure to a range of social ills including increasing social fragmentation, the rise of celebrity culture and the breakdown of community," as they explain.

Not everyone in Britain welcomes the idea of course. The news that the Higher Education minister David Lammy has called for Labour's Election Manifesto to include a plan which will require university students to complete 100 hours of Compulsory Civic Service has provoked squeals of protest, notably from student groups concerned about rumours that the Government is "planning on paying for the organisation of the scheme by hiking student loan interest rates on past and present students."

And somehow, even if the scheme goes ahead, I can't see it being bolstered by a members' pledge similar to the proud boast of AmeriCorps.

Our notion of Britishness is weak compared with the sense of national identity experienced by other countries. The decline of our Empire, regional devolution within the UK with its various Assemblies, the problems within our Established Church of England, the globalisation or collapse of many of our industries, even perhaps the impact of mass immigration and our cynical view of politicians... these are just some of the factors involved. "People have more allegiance to football teams than they have to Great Britain," has commented one observer. "What is the glue that is going to hold society together?"

It's a sad sign of the times that perhaps the strongest manifestation of patriotism in the UK during recent years has been on the streets of Wootton Bassett, the small town in Wiltshire, known for the dignified respect with which it greets the seemingly endless funeral cortèges of returning service men and women.


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