It’s AmeriCorps week and as an organization with deep roots in National Service, and a whole suite of current projects dedicated to advancing the vision of a Civilian Climate Corps, it’s a time of reflection and celebration for what National Service does for this country and a great time to lift up all the organizations and people working to make it more central to the climate fight.
The legacy and impact of national service in this country is profound, from the early days of the Civilian Conservation Corps, through the birth of VISTA in the 60s to the dawn of AmeriCorps in the 90s. Hundreds of thousands of people have dedicated millions of hours to tackling community needs through their hard work, determination, and passion. Along the way their energy and optimism has brought people together during some of the most difficult and trying times. If you know anyone who has served or is serving, take a moment out this week and say thank you (even better buy them a sandwich because odds are they could use the support).
This year, we also find ourselves at the nexus of accelerating climate impacts, increased public desire to address climate issues, and an absolutely transformative federal investment in climate action through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) principally. In almost every conversation we have about addressing climate change and the IRA, the question of capacity comes up. How are we going to build the people power necessary to move funds from DC to the communities that need them the most?
Ironically, the answer is all around us. AmeriCorps week comes smack in the middle of two conferences we’re participating in – last week’s Annual Corps Network meeting in Washington DC and next week’s America’s Service Commission Training in San Diego. Both of these events are gathering places for the national service community and a showcase for innovation and inspiration in the field. In both events, we have the pleasure of hosting conversations around where climate corps are developing across the country and how we can collectively increase their scale and impact. We can tell you from this and other work we’re doing, the national service community is eager to get in the climate fight and more importantly has the localized relationships and deployment infrastructure to become the connective tissue that helps the country realize the full potential of IRA.
So what’s holding us back? Frankly, decades of underinvestment in National Service and an overly paternalistic compliance driven approach to delivering impact is a significant part of the issue. As someone working on expanding national initiatives recently said, “we’re self-imposing a tax on impact” when we try to deliver national service programs with poverty wages and impose burdensome administrative layers on organizations looking to tap this power. This is particularly acute when we look at the disparities in who serves and where service happens. Most of us working on climate change will readily say climate action needs to be environmental justice, but national service can’t fully come to the table if we don’t address historical resourcing and administrative barriers.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. While the original Civilian Climate Corps was not funded as part of the IRA, the drive and energy to realize the vision is alive. States like Maine, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, California, Washington, and Hawaii are standing up state-level climate corps initiatives. Individual programs throughout the national service community world are also pivoting to embrace climate change directly, reducing barriers to participation. A national coalition of service and climate leaders have banded together as the Partnership for a Civilian Climate Corps – to advocate at the federal level for greater inclusion and support for national service. And this week Senator Jack Reed and Representative John Larson are reintroducing the ACTION for National Service Act, which would reinvigorate national service as a whole and create a dedicated Civilian Climate Corps.
All of this continued energy is a testament to the desire to bring national service further into the climate fight, but we need help. We need continued pressure in DC to link IRA funds with national service and to reduce administrative barriers to program innovation. We need pressure in state houses to ask for support and inclusion of service in state climate programming.
So for this AmeriCorps week, we can all say thank you to everyone who serves. But let’s go a little further and ask our national, state, and local leaders to unlock the incredible people power that’s waiting to #getthingsdone.
To find out more about how Farallon Strategies is supporting this vision, check our our national service project page, and please contact Kif Scheuer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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