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Public Statements

Citizenship and Service Address

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown

(As prepared for delivery)

September 11th, 2001, was a date that changed our history and our hearts.  It was the most brutal and deadly attack America has ever known.  We lost so many lives that morning:  three thousand husbands and daughters, mothers and brothers, friends and heroes.  And we lost long held illusions of invulnerability - - the comfortable assumption of our geography that we were literally oceans away from conflict - - that when and if we became involved, it was always "over there."

But then it happened here - - and that has become a central fact of our time.  Yet even as the buildings collapsed, even amidst the smoke rising from the ruins, it became clear that there was a deeper truth that could lift us and light our way:  On that day - as in past days of peril and tragedy - we became one nation.  One nation in spirit and resolve - and one nation in caring for another.  As heroes gave their lives on the steps of the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon trying to rescue and save, as hundreds lined up to give blood and thousands to volunteer, as help poured in from across the country and millions contributed to the families of the victims, we as a people offered the most powerful witness of our generation to our national character:  Our greatest strength, and the highest duty of citizenship, is service.

Service to this nation was the defining moment in my own life - and I believe service can define the life of the nation.  So in this month when I am offering a series of major proposals - seeking to set out ideas as big and bold as the challenges that will shape America's future - I have come to New Hampshire today to call for a new era of national service open to everyone in the nation.

Nothing I hope to do as President will be more vital than reconnecting America's public life to the ideal of full citizenship.  In this time of testing, of profound danger and vast potential, the real question we face is not what America can offer to us, but what each of us owe to America.  To protect our nation and meet our potential, we will have to harness the faith, the energy, and the commitment of people of all ages in communities across the country.

Yet too often today, citizenship and duty are dismissed as peripheral or as fond memories of a forgotten past.  But day after day, they are a way of life for millions.  And they have sustained and strengthened our democracy for more than two centuries. It was the sense of service and sacrifice that inspired a few Massachusetts farmers to leave their plows and stand up to the mightiest empire in the world at Lexington and Concord. 

It was to "that last full measure of devotion" that an American President paid immortal tribute on a cool November day in Gettysburg.  It was that call to serve that led my father and the greatest generation to enlist in the Army Air Corps during World War II, that led a new generation to the frontlines in Vietnam and then led many of the returning veterans to oppose that war when they came home.

In that same spirit, millions of Americans make a contribution and a difference every day - when they swear a Scout oath, help out in a hospital or homeless shelter, or tutor in a local school.

Visiting this nation more than a hundred fifty years ago, Alexis De Tocqueville observed that America is great because Americans are good. All over this country, Americans are demonstrating their fundamental goodness and decency to their fellow citizen and the world when they volunteer and serve.  Washington doesn't have all the answers and government doesn't need to reinvent the wheel.  What we can do is enhance local efforts, empower citizens to do what's right, and bring together government and businesses to leverage the great work that is being done by volunteers - in Boys and Girls Clubs, religious groups, and thousands of different places and projects all over America.  Teachers transfer values, mentors transfer values, helpers and healers transfer values - and they deserve a government that's on their side in that important work.

More than any other nation, America is not just a place on the globe but an idea - and at the heart of that idea is a belief in the dignity and duty of every citizen - that all of us have something to give and each of us has a responsibility to serve.

For America, citizenship is not just a status or a slogan; it is the force that has forged our past and it must be the foundation of our future.

But beyond Washington, here in New Hampshire and in towns, suburbs, and cities across our country, our people think their government has turned away from that ideal.  They think elected officials no longer ask them to serve a cause greater than themselves.  They think their leaders have given up on balancing rights with responsibilities.  They think that our political debates too often descend into combat between entitlement and abandonment, between "something for nothing" and "every man for himself."

And they're right.

Americans deserve a government that has as much faith in the ideals of America as they do.  The deserve leaders for whom duty, honor, and responsibility are principles, not punch lines.

Yet for this Administration, those words too often become little more than commonplace backdrops for political events - background music for their march to replace shared sacrifice with selfishness.

With George Bush in the White House, we have seen a "get mine and get out" ethic that in effect glories a creed of greed.  Enron executives bilk the retirement savings of ordinary investors, and for months the Administration resists reform.  Polluters are given a free pass.  Powerful corporations enjoy sweetheart deals at the expense of everyday Americans.  Lobbyists come in from the cold to write laws favoring the companies that pay their lavish bills.  Insiders ride a revolving door between the White House and major industries.  Failed CEOs get golden parachutes while their employees get pink slips.  And, for the first time in this nation's history, the most privileged among us get enormous tax breaks during a time of war.

Nowhere is this disdain for a sense of common obligation clearer than in the Administration's indifference to the wider call to service. In the days after September 11th, volunteerism soared all over this land; Americans were searching for ways to give something back.  But President Bush turned aside proposal after proposal to tap into this new spirit.  When Republican John McCain and Democrat Evan Bayh offered a bipartisan initiative to expand national service, the President rejected it.  He did not even follow through on his own modest pledge to expand AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps.

He said he would "rally the armies of compassion," but he left them high and dry - without the resources to wage their battles and with a leader who was absent from the cause he claimed to profess.

Whether it's the economy or the environment, our schools or our servers, the story is the same.  President Bush speaks of compassion, but withholds commitment.  It is time to demand more of our leadership and to answer the Americans who are asking to give more of themselves.  It is time to renew the spirit of service and citizenship, of duty and the patriotism that belongs to no one President and no one party, but should enlist all our people to do their part, in many different ways, to make our country better.

We have seen before what happens when we appeal to the best instincts of America.  Confined to his wheelchair, Franklin Roosevelt summoned Americans to stand tall against the tide of depression.  Sixty years ago, his Civilian Conservation Corps sent millions of the young out to rebuild the nation even as they built a better life for themselves.  John Kennedy called my generation to the Peace Corps - and Lyndon Johnson's VISTA opened up the chance to serve in the most forgotten places in our own land, valleys of deprivation and despair so often unseen and unheard.  And then, ten years ago this month, President Clinton introduced AmeriCorps and inaugurated a new season of service.

Today, I propose not only to build on that tradition, but to go beyond it - because today, our challenges are different and our commitment must be even greater.  We need a new era of service - not an effort for one time, one purpose, or one group - but a permanent and national endeavor.  For America now, service is not just an option, but an obligation of citizenship.

So I am proposing that we fulfill that obligation by creating a seamless web of service where every American - young and old, rich and poor, of every race, religion, and background - can enlist in a new army of patriots who will serve on all the frontlines of our future - guarding our nation from danger abroad, strengthening our homeland security, reducing illiteracy, preserving our environment, providing after-school care, helping our seniors live in dignity, building new homes for those who need them - and in all of this, building a nation that is more truly one America.

This proposal will engage more than one million Americans a year in national service, with millions more volunteering some portion of their time and talents.

A new "Service for College" initiative will call on young people both to help strengthen America's security and to address unmet needs.  For every young person who gives two years of service, America will pay the cost for four years of their state's public college tuition.  This will simultaneously strengthen our society, enhance our economy and advance our values by opening doors of higher education to those who respond to a higher sense of duty to make our country better.

We have a good beginning with AmeriCorps - which in the past ten years has gone from a good idea to a great success.  Thousands of young people have served in inner city and rural schools, in building low income housing and in rebuilding communities in the aftermath of natural disasters.  State and local initiative has led the way and bureaucracy in Washington, which has been held to a minimum, has gotten out of the way.

But in this Administration, AmeriCorps has been cut and capped.  I believe that is wrong - in terms of both our national work and our national spirit.  As President, I will bring national service out of the shadows and into the center of national purpose.

My aim is nothing less than to make national service a way of life for each new generation of Americans.  So I will set a goal within the next decade of enlisting five hundred thousand young people a year in Service for College - more than one out of seven young Americans working side by side, in many different ways, but with a common commitment to our best hopes and values.

Just think of what they can accomplish. AmeriCorps members already are playing a part in providing homeland security. All around the country, they have participated in emergency drills.  They have helped the Red Cross to conduct disaster preparedness training and mobilized local communities to assemble emergency response plans. But more in service can do far more to safeguard this country.  This is the time for young people to step forward with patriotism and pride, and volunteer to prepare and to protect America from the threats we face.

Helping our communities get information and get prepared requires more than thousands of officials sitting in a new agency in Washington.  It will take thousands of trained people on the ground ready to work with firefighters, police officers, health professionals, and other first defenders to make our communities safer and react if an attack does come. Service members can participate in coordinating efforts in hospitals, searching out vulnerabilities at our ports, and seeking out and showing local volunteers how to do their part. 

And America's young are equal to this great responsibility.  It was young people who stormed the beaches and climbed the cliffs of Normandy and raised the flag over Iwo Jima.  Many young people ran up the stairs of the World Trade Center.  It was nineteen year old Pfc. Jessica Lynch who showed such valor as a POW - and young American solders who rescued her.  No one should doubt that today's young people can contribute to our security at home as well as overseas. 

But that is the beginning and not the end of the difference their service can make.  They can change the face of American life.

With their help, more senior citizens will be able to live independently in their own homes instead of nursing homes.

With their help, we can achieve a national goal of every child reading by the third grade - - and they can assist teachers, parents, and administrators in making sure that our schools are once again the best in the world.

With their help, we'll start our youngest children on the path to success by making sure they have the care and support they need in the critical early years of their development.

And with their help, we'll make the hardest job in the world - being a parent - a little easier by giving moms and dads more support in the uphill struggle to balance work and family.  Those who serve will work in summer and after-school programs where more American children can learn in safety and grow up as strong citizens.  Servers will battle soil erosion in our rural areas, bring new life to urban parks in our cities, and join with groups like Youth Build and Habitat for Humanity to build affordable housing in America's neighborhoods.

Service members are not professionals.  Nothing can ever replace a skilled firefighter or teacher, a nurse or child care provider or conservation engineer who does a critical job with professionalism and pride.  But everyone and every task can use a helping hand - and we can do more for America if young Americas give more of themselves.

America has already seen the impact of enlisting the young in meeting some of our hardest challenges.  For nearly ten years, young people have received assistance in paying for college in exchange for a commitment to serve as police officers after graduation.  The Police Corps is an idea I've championed from the start; it has been one of the most innovative initiatives of the last decade.  As President, I will expand it and it will continue to provide an even higher level of benefit for all four years of college.  Whether the young people who are members of the Corps stay in police work or serve and then go on to other careers, they make our streets safer while they are in uniform - and, in a larger sense, whether in uniform or afterwards - they strengthen our rule of law and our shared understanding of rights and responsibilities. 

And the ethic of service should not just begin when high school ends.  So my proposal also calls for a bold new program of High School Service, which will make service and civics a requirement in every secondary school in the nation in exchange for the federal funding the government provides.  And local communities will make the decisions on how to get this done. 

Nothing our students can learn is more important than citizenship.  Teaching them about the rights and responsibilities they have as Americans is as vital as teaching them algebra or literature.  Literacy about our democracy is the lifeblood of this free society.  But in a recent national test, more than 45 percent of twelfth graders couldn't explain how democracy benefits from citizen participation.  That's our failing, not theirs.  We need to teach democratic values in our classrooms and educate students not only about how a bill becomes a law, but about how they can become a full citizen.

And they should live as well as learn those lessons.  So I propose that all high school students should also be required to do community service before they graduate.  Today, the state of Maryland, many school districts around the country, and many high schools - including some here in New Hampshire - already require service.  They have proven its worth - and shown that it is not make-work. Rather it can make a difference in many lives and enrich all our communities.  Communities can design these efforts to meet their own specific needs whether it is providing after-school activities for younger kids, tutoring them in reading, spending time with seniors, or helping to clean up and renew neighborhoods.  There is a world of work for students to do and a nation of extraordinary volunteer organizations ready and eager to recruit them.

States and local communities will design their own service requirements that make it significant without being onerous.  For instance, Maryland's requirement is seventy-five hours over the course of high school and local educators have discretion to implement this in ways that meet student needs.  Nothing in this plan will prevent young people who need to work to save for college from being able to work.  Certainly fifty to a hundred hours in the four years of high school doesn't seem too much to ask from young people as they take on the responsibility of being a citizen.  We can and will assist local communities in shaping High School Service plans to fit what they seek to accomplish - and then we must assure sufficient resources to put those plans in place. 

So, High School Service should be mandatory for students, but it should not be another unfunded mandate from Washington.  Again and again, the federal government has issued demands and then left states like New Hampshire with the burden of paying for them.  This won't be another one of those times.  I propose that the federal government fully fund this service requirement - or states will not have to implement it.  Government needs to do more than teach the next generation responsibility; it needs to show some responsibility of its own.  If Washington doesn't do it's part, young people won't be required to do theirs. 

And there is something else they can do if we give them the chance.  Teenagers thirteen to seventeen are too old for child care and too young for many summer jobs.  Parents don't want to leave them alone all summer but too many families don't have any alternative.  I propose Summers of Service that will involve teenagers in the work of their communities.  Supervised by AmeriCorps volunteers, they can visit nursing homes, clean up local areas, or teach seniors computer skills - and, in turn, they will earn a grant to apply to their college education.

Next, I propose service not just for the young in years, but for those who still have so much to contribute after their finishing their careers.  As Robert Kennedy once said, "Youth is not a time of life, but a state of mind."  As President, I will defend and strengthen fundamental guarantees such as Social Security and Medicare.  But I also believe in calling on older Americans to contribute to a nation that continues to need all that they have to offer.  My proposal for Older Americans in Service will enlist those who have now retired - because beyond the jobs they did, they have so much more to give. 

There are those in the Greatest Generation who are doing that today.  And now the generation of the 1960's is entering their 60's.  Today's Americans are living longer and staying healthier into their retirement; we need their experience and their energy - and in return, they will earn money that they can apply to an education grant for a grandchild or other any child they choose. 

They have already done so much for their country.  Here is what they can now do for their communities: older Americans can serve as positive role models for our children, signposts of stability in our classrooms, and the world's most patient tutors.  When they are part of schools, students behave better.  When older Americans spend time tutoring, children learn more and learn faster.  And older Americans have the credibility and compassion to help their infirm or disabled peers in ways that no one else can..  Our older Americans are retired, not tired - and America cannot afford to waste their wisdom and vitality.

In another, very specific way, more Americans can do something vital for the nation through a new Community Defense Service comprised of hundreds of thousands of people in thousands of neighborhoods.  Like crime watches in many of our neighborhoods, Community Defense Service Captains will help show Americans how they and their families can best prepare for the threats we face.  These volunteers will provide their neighbors with solid, reliable information about biological, chemical or other terrorist threats.  AmeriCorps members will organize the effort.  The Department of Homeland Security would offer leadership.  Firefighters and police officers will offer training and education.  And the members of the Community Defense Service will be there working side by side with first defenders whenever and wherever they are needed.

In any proposal for national service, attention must be paid to the Peace Corps, the most powerful symbol of non-military service in our history.  If there was ever a time when everyday people in the most deprived countries, cities and villages of the world need to see idealistic Americans working to help them, it is today in the aftermath of September 11th.  Peace Corps members are the greatest ambassadors of goodwill and democracy that this nation has ever had - and we need more of them.  Today, there are 6,700 Peace Corps volunteers, far fewer than in the 1960's - when much of the globe was off limits due to the Cold War.  I propose a major expansion of the Peace Corps for this new century to twenty-five thousand members.  They will serve in the places they always have and in new areas of challenge - from the Middle East to communities in Africa ravaged by AIDS.   

The Peace Corps will once again be treated as one of America's proudest and most important endeavors.  In the White House I will get it done.

Finally, there is the form of service that has made and kept this country free, defended it from mortal dangers, and literally saved the world from the most monstrous forms of tyranny.  Military service is honorable and noble.  So often, it is the highest form of sacrifice.  As President, I will seek to strengthen our armed forces by recruiting more active duty personnel at a time when the military is having retention and recruiting problems.  The difficult missions we face and the complex technologies we depend on demand that.  And when so many reservists are also firefighters and police officers, relying exclusively on activating them during a time of crisis can actually weaken our security. President Bush has not led in recruiting young people into the military.  I will.  And as President, I will modernize our GI Bill benefits.  Those who risk their lives for America deserve the best chance to learn more and earn a better life for their families. 

I also believe no university that receives federal aid should be allowed to ban the ROTC from campus.  It hurts our students; it hurts our colleges; it hurts our country.  It is wrong - and under a Kerry Administration, it will be illegal.

I learned about duty and obligation from my parents - through their words and by their example.  My mother was a lifelong volunteer in our community and an environmental activist before the term even existed. My father was on the front end of the Greatest Generation.  He set aside his career and volunteered even before America entered World War II.  While he was off on duty, my mother sent him a letter.  "You have no idea of the ways in which one can be useful right now," she wrote.  "There's something for everyone to do." 

Two decades later, Martin Luther King told us:  "Everybody can be great because everybody can serve."  Today America will be secure and strong if everybody does serve because there is work for all to do, a place for all to serve, and no room on the sidelines.

I see an America where every citizen of every age and background can make a difference and meet an obligation higher than themselves. 

I see an America where in a seamless web of service and concern, we offer Americans the challenge and the chance to do their duty - and Americans, in turn, step forward and give something back.

I see in America where in times of trouble and in triumph, of threat and hope, as President Kennedy reminded us, we ask not just what government can do, but what we can do.

It was my generation that in our youth heard that call - and I remember shortly afterwards my own period of service.  We did not think we were special.  We just thought we were doing our part.  And in the end, I supposed that is all any of us can do - and I believe each of us must try.

I believe that a new army of American patriots stands ready for a new era of service.  They only await a call to service that is certain and true.  It is time to sound that call again.  And that's why I am running for President.  Thank You.

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