If, as the President keeps telling us, the nation is on a "war footing," then we need to stand up, and stand together. We need to do more than salute. We need to serve. And we need more leadership from us, the people, so our democracy is not owned and monopolized by the government.
Since 1993, as founder of a resume business in the Pentagon, I've met with literally thousands of military, Federal, corporate, and nonprofit professionals. Our discussions often range beyond personal career concerns to the nation's well being. Ideas surface in these meetings that I believe deserve public airing. One of the core elements that keeps coming up in these ideas is the need to create what I would call "hybrid leadership": seeds that can grow beyond themselves and unify the purposes of more and more participants. Here are a few ideas that have caught my attention:
Creation of a Universal Service (US) Corps, in which all Americans would be asked to serve, sometime between the ages of 18-35. We would all choose when, but each of us would serve. US Corps would include service in professions such as teaching, nursing, and other fields with a shortage of professionals. It would also include service in the US Military, thus creating a universal draft to national service not tied to the military, helping to disarm the draft as a politically radioactive issue.
National service would be universal. Salaries and healthcare would be paid. Doing this would be expensive -- the way that sending a child to college is expensive. It would be a national investment.
Calling for and supporting a UN Peace Corps. One form of Universal Service could place US Peace Corps Volunteers under UN control, so that Americans would serve with people from other countries. Just as the US Peace Corps came to define an entire political generation, a UN Peace Corps supported by our volunteers would help define for the world what America stands for, while reminding us that we are not alone in the world and need to do our part. There are few better ways to get to understand other people -- or be understood by them -- than working alongside them.
Creation of a National Homeroom Mentoring Project. In most schools, homeroom periods are dead time. Why not turn them to better use? We could use this time to bring veterans and other professionals into our schools as accountability coaches, whose purpose would be to make students accountable about their goals and their performance in reaching for their goals.
Doing this would free up classroom teachers to focus on teaching. It also would bring more men into our schools, something we need, and would build bridges to the world of adult responsibilities. Since one of the choices facing students would be how to serve in US Corps, homeroom mentors could discuss this. In addition, veterans serving as homeroom mentors would be able to educate young people about, and serve as informal recruiters for, the US military. The '60's are over. We need to recruit for our military. Here's a way to do it, while broadening a military draft into a Universal Service requirement for all Americans entering adulthood.
Creation of a National Service University, to replenish a Federal workforce whose average age is now 49.5. Civil service retirees could teach at campuses nationwide. This would help all parties to such an institutional venture: it would attract more students into the nation's colleges and universities, growing enrollments and revenues; it would also attract more Americans into public service, replacing a generation of public servants that is about to retire; it would create a new nationwide higher educational institution on practically a shoestring. Overhead would be almost insignificant, since many faculty members would be Federal employees or retirees, who might provide their time and skills under the Universal Service effort.
There are other initiatives we can attempt: a National Inventors Corps in which young people work with scientists to design the next generation of technology; and an annual Congress of Youth and Age, in which young people and elders meet during Congress' August recess to debate national issues, and do it on C-SPAN, offering true "reality TV", addressing our decisions as citizens of a globalized world.
We need to declare to the world who we Americans are, and we need to declare it by our actions. The world hears what we say, but it watches what we do.
In history, there are few innocent bystanders. The history of our time is being written, and the world is waiting.
We need to show up.