Our Quote of the Week is a reminder of the Peace Corps’ connection to protecting democracy. As we mark the 61st anniversary of the creation of the Peace Corps this week, we’re thinking about how we can protect democracy at home and around the world in 2022.
Sargent Shriver spoke these words at the University of Michigan during the Address at the Rededication Ceremony of the Peace Corps. He gave the address in the same place where a young presidential hopeful, John Kennedy, had spoken about the Peace Corps publicly for the first time 20 years earlier in 1960.
Shriver characterized his own era as quite a negative moment for the country. He said: "We're not in Kennedy's era. We're not living on a 'New Frontier' or trying to create a 'Great Society.' We're hunkered down -- trying to make sure we keep what we've got. We're contributing less and less per capita every year to the poor and hungry of the world."
Ever the optimist, however, Shriver went on to stress that "‘People power' can always defeat economic power or military power," and gave some out-of-the-box suggestions for new ways in which the Peace Corps could expand, including the potential inclusion of citizens of all countries, and the deployment of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to serve at home.
Shriver’s belief in “people power” is a belief in democracy itself. It requires the confidence that people’s full participation in the public affairs of a nation can make that nation thrive. Unfortunately, today we see too many efforts to undermine the democratic will of the people. The attempts to overturn the results of the Presidential election in 2020; the blatant voter suppression in some US states; the harassment and arrests of journalists across the world; the manipulation of media or the spreading of disinformation by government or other actors; these are some of the efforts to undermine democracy we must work together to combat. And, of course, we can each play a part in strengthening democracy by serving others, so that we can ensure that those with few opportunities to have their voices heard – the poor, the marginalized, the disabled, the elderly, children – are able to participate in society more fully.