Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Volunteer or Die!

From the New York Times:

"Heeding President Obama’s call for boosting Americans’ engagement in civic service, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Monday a sweeping plan to encourage volunteerism among city residents.

The announcement came on the eve of Mr. Obama’s signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act,which over five years will more than triple the size of AmeriCorps, the nation’s civilian service force. The legislation would mobilize volunteers to undertake some of the country’s most urgent social challenges, like shoring up communities hard-hit by the recession."

Seriously? Does it take Mayor Bloomberg to get everyone hyped to volunteer? I can't help but recall a similar call-to-arms by the Brooklyn-based Vote or Die initiative that emerged in 2004. During the Bush v. Kerry election, celebrities such as P. Diddy and Leonardo DiCaprio stressed the 4000+ deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq as a way to get young people to vote against the war.

Increasing voter participation among the 18-24 demographic is a good idea, but no one could give me a clear reason why I should listen to celebrities endorsing bipartisan votership. I mean, why the heck would I get my political information from P. Diddy? Seems like more gimmick than anything else. I'll stick with CNN and the BBC, thank you very much.

Then came the 2008 presidential campaign. With Will.I.Am and other prominent musicians creating a viral trend of "Yes We Can" Youtube videos. There's no doubt that social networking and user-generated video content sites like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and Youtube, are affecting opinions. Anyone has the ability to create a quick video or jump-start trends. And while Vote or Die may have been a means to target the "hip-hop generation," it seems Obama doesn't actually favor the low-slung look himself.

But enough on that. What I meant to say in the beginning is that volunteering doesn't have to be- shouldn't be- a hassle. The public's current fascination with eco-friendly design, sustainable living, bicycling and organic, locally produced food lends itself well to giving back to the community that first nurtured them.

How about some guerrilla gardening? Guerilla gardening, or "making vacant, neglected public lands green and flower-filled," is becoming more mainstream these days. While I'm not exactly endorsing mass takeovers of public soil, some people have managed to beautify the cities they live in by sprinkling seeds over abandoned fields and watching their flowers come to fruition. So go spread some sunshine in your 'hood today!

Some resources:

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