In answer to the question, "How can government help?" I suggest that we start by taking what worked in facilitating the grassroots volunteer efforts during the election and building on some of those ideas. Many people got involved by finding specific volunteer opportunities on mybarackobama. Many of the posts in this discussion confirm that people want an easy mechanism through which they can find and connect with volunteer needs in their communities.
While I actually love the idea of National Service Corps, it may be more feasible and practical, initially, to set up a team to train individuals to connect volunteers with places that need them. That is, local people can be trained to facilitate the development of websites and other centralized mechanisms to connect volunteers to opportunities in their communities, and follow-up with those volunteers and agencies to insure that it's working.
Or, how about having local field offices for volunteers, like they have field offices for political parties? Paid professionals could run the offices, which would collect information about local volunteer needs and then provide assistance in connecting volunteers with the sites. Local offices could also make training available to more ambitious volunteers who would like to provide leadership themselves. (Sort of a Camp Obama idea)
To that, YES. I do not support "primary care" in the managed care sense, but in the medical home sense, providing coordinated, preventative, and accessible care to people in the context of their communities.
It may be that we are referring to 2 different things, which often overlap. Organizing can be taught but is not quite the same as leadership. We need both, but many people who may not rank as "great leaders" can be effective organizers in their own communities and thus serve as leaders as well.
You are right about the cynicism, but I think that most people do not really want to be cynical given another avenue. I live in an inner city neigborhood and see, among many youth, the kind of cynicism and meanness you describe. it is a response to an uncaring environment and manifests itself in a withdrawal from school and the more positive aspects of their government. They are disengaged. They are suspicious of the motives of others and cynical about do-gooders.
I remember vividly the first time I heard Barack Obama speak from the Dem convention in 2004. The tears streamed down my face because, as I told me husband then, "I don't have to be cynical anymore!" It was that, even more than all of the bad policies of the Bush administration, that was destroying ME. I am excited about the possibility of renewing our civic engagement, our democracy, and our do-gooding! Very corny, eh? I do not apologize.
Long ago my father told me that it is rarely people's intentions that are problematic, it is their means. Barack Obama talked about this in discussion how he hopes to change the culture of dialogue in Washington. By listening to one another carefully, understanding rather than assuming their intentions, we can often find common values and compromise on means.
Interesting article in the Boston Globe this morning regarding Deborah Stone's book 'The Samaritan Dilemma: Should Government Help your Neighbor?' She suggests that Obama's victory is, in part, evidence of the view that people want to be able to express their yearnings to help others and that they want government to facilitate that. She cites social research that shows that the healthiest democracies are those in which people feel they can make a difference and that the basic mission of government is not hands off, but altruistic.
A democracy needs people to care about one another collectively, and care about their government, but if they feel it is evil, corrupt, immoral or indifferent, they will refuse to be involved in it. The bottom line is that a democracy cannot be healthy without the interest and involvement of its citizens, and people, because of their basic inclination to help their neighbors, will not support a government that does not support this notion or is mean-spirited. This does not mean that government needs to do the volunteering, but that it can adopt laws and regulations that protect its citizens. Further, it can create structures that will encourage and enable our volunteerism.
Well, sometimes the voter registration process is not obvious for people who are new to the area, people who are recent citizens with limited English or no internet access, people who are elderly and have difficulty getting out. It was very rewarding to bring the process directly to people, who were very grateful and enthusiastic. Getting everyone invested and participating in the system is an important step.
You have hit on something that is a very important concept in motivating people to "get involved". They need to feel that the task at hand and their own talents/personality/time are a match. Your idea of having specific tasks listed is excellent. Asking people to attend a meeting to "volunteer" in a general way often falls flat, as TerryM mentioned. Sometimes a personal contact by a known person, with a specific request e.g. can you drive on Thursday, can you bring a cake, can you come for one hour to stuff envelopes... meets with success. Still, it will always be that some do much more than others. Respecting the limitations and time of volunteers and accepting this inequity can be helpful.
Absolutely! I think that most people yearn to make a contribution of some kind. Given leadership and organization, communities of individuals can make a huge difference. This is part of what made this election so thrilling. People understood that the efforts of many individuals coming together created change. But I also found that I, as one person, was able to make a difference after someone taught me how to register new voters. Leadership is such an important key and this can be taught.