Who Will ServeNext?
Meet Zach Maurin
and Aaron Marquez
, AmeriCorps alums of City Year and co-founders of ServeNext
, an organization that advocates for the enhancement of National Service and its network of organizations. ServeNext is banking on National Service alums to play a pivotal role in accomplishing its goals and key benchmarks.
After 9-11, Aaron Marquez, co-founder of ServeNext, responded to the attack with shock and anger but eventually transformed his emotions into something quite different---purposefulness. His journey into National Service began by signing up with the Army, but after being deemed “medically disqualified,” he serendipitously saw a City Year commercial. Inspired by their mission of “building democracy through National Service,” Aaron began his first year of service the next fall. “It is also important to add,” says Marquez, ‘that President George W. Bush, in his 2002 State of the Union Address, called on “every American to commit at least two years- 4,000 hours over the rest of your lifetime- to the service of your neighbors and your nation,' helped me convince my parents that taking a year off from school was a good idea.”
At the end of his first term in 2003, Congress announced dramatic cuts to the AmeriCorps budget. Despite the efforts of the Save AmeriCorps Coalition, an organization formed in response to these budget cuts, a roller coaster of events affecting the future of AmeriCorps followed. Although AmeriCorps funding was restored and actually increased the next year, National Service funding declined over each of the following five years. “As AmeriCorps alums we saw the need to create a permanent advocacy organization for National Service. When Congress and the Executive branch debate over the federal budget, every other interest group has an advocacy organization that is fighting for their piece of the pie,” said Marquez. Without the voice of National Service participants and its supporters, we will continue to see cuts in funding or programs.
ServeNext believes AmeriCorps programs and members have been federally legislated out of their rights to participate in political advocacy. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service rules and regulations, an AmeriCorps member is not allowed to lobby during his/her service hours. Although members can lobby outside of their service hours, with no association to AmeriCorps, many organizations (non-profit and federally funded alike) are confused by what constitutes lobbying and therefore avoid it all together to their disadvantage). ServeNext was created when committed alums saw the need other National Service alums could fill for the National Service Movement.
Unfortunately, although National Service has received and continues to receive bi-partisan support, funding continues to drop. When NCCC faced the chopping block, David Eisner (CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service) faced questions of many frustrated and concerned alumni at the 2006 HandsOn Network National Conference in Boston. After a long discussion, it became apparent the way to save NCCC was to get the word out to the nation about the impending future of the program and use our voices to save it. Funding is not necessarily cut due to lack of support, but “for a lack of political and public will,” according to Maurin. “Most politicians think National Service is important.” However, he continues, “without a powerful political voice to insist on sound National Service policies, it is swept under a rug and ignored. The fact that bi-partisan support exists already means that as we build a strong constituent network of grassroots support, politicians will respond across party lines because it is an issue easily embraced and as politicians see more widespread support, they will be more inclined to vote in favor of National Service legislation.”
It is important for National Service participants to stay informed and involved in our country's political process, despite restrictions, because as Marquez states, “AmeriCorps members and alums have all shown their commitment to addressing many of our social ills through service to the environment, education, health care, etc. We are committed to social justice, but social change cannot come through service alone. Direct service, at the grassroots level, must be combined with political service.” For example, he continues, “If AmeriCorps members care about fixing the problems within our education system they eventually have to become political to bring about large-scale social change in education. The same goes for the idea of National Service. If we believe National Service is one of the most powerful solutions to many of our nation's greatest challenges we must organize politically to advocate for this solution.”
Recently quoted in the September 10 issue of Time Magazine on National Service, Maurin stated, “"People understand the idea that this is a great country, and that greatness isn't free.” With this in mind, ServeNext is strategically paving the way for AmeriCorps alums to voice their support for National Service and to take action. As the nation prepares for the 2008 Presidential elections, the advocacy group has launched an aggressive campaign in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is an important campaign state and was the first state in the union to hold presidential primaries. Consequently, the state has traditionally provided an environment that allows voters to meet and directly ask question of each candidate as they vie for support from the early voters.
Taking advantage of this accessibility, ServeNext will provide continuous video stream of 150 national service questions (about 10 per candidate) on their website (www.ServeNext.org). They hope to generate pressure to drive better policy and platforms on National Service. In order to achieve their goal, ServeNext is coordinating volunteers across New Hampshire to attend these events and Town Hall Forums, ask questions, and wear ServeNext T-shirts. In addition, one of ServeNext's “key asks” of all Presidential candidates is a formal commitment to the growth of National Service by signing the “ServeNext Presidential Pledge to Expand National Service.” This pledge is a commitment to four areas for the first term: 1) Expanding AmeriCorps by 100,000 members (a total of 170,000); 2) Expanding senior corps; 3) Expanding the Peace Corps; and 4) Expanding Learn and Serve America.
For alums living and voting in “early” states, (i.e. New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, Florida, or South Carolina) town hall forums will be the best way to put national service on the map as candidates see this growing issue. “When candidates continue to face questions and see that there is a constituent voice for National Service, they will feel pressure to create a solid platform,” Maurin argues. For alums in other states, ServeNext asks you to stay informed about where candidates stand on National Service and to consider voting for candidates who are strong on this issue. A great place to start is the AmeriCorps Alums Advocacy Center- AmeriCorps Alums official online hub for national service advocacy and legislation- including the most up-to-date positions Presidential candidates are taking on national service. Alums can also view videos, audio, and commentary about the New Hampshire campaign at www.servenext.org/.
If alums have so many options for voicing their concerns, pride and suggestions for National Service as well as opportunities for strengthening National Service by taking action both locally and nationally, what, then, is the single most important thing an Alum can do for National Service? ServeNext founders stress that the power of national service is the shared-common experience that 500,000 people now have. Both Maurin and Marquez agree, “The best thing to do is to remain life-long advocates for advancing the movement to grow and gain momentum. Remaining an advocate means: recruiting people to serve; it means being a political voice during elections; it means staying involved as alumni with each other; it means being a voice and believer in all ways that help advance this movement.”
It means YOU.