National Service: David Gergen, City Year and the social change agenda




Former Presidential Advisor David Gergen pushes more than 70 service organizations into a ‘new order’ of shared sacrifice

Aaron Dykes / Jones Report | May 25, 2009

Behind globalist David Gergen is the real sense of “change” that came in with Barack Obama’s election. The enthusiasm for this new president was met with calls for service and sacrifice– and that is something former presidential advisor Gergen put on the agenda years ago.

Gergen now lectures in public service at Harvard and directs its Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.


Prior to the 2008 election, he was among those pushing for an expansion of Americorps from some 75,000 to more than 250,000 volunteers. That increase was quickly approved– by that exact number– under the passage of the National Service Act in the opening weeks of the Obama Administration.

One face of that expansion of service has come in City Yearon whose board David Gergen sits. In 2007, Gergen also helped push some 70 other groups through the ‘America Forward’coalition along with a ‘venture philanthropy fund’ called New Profit, Inc. One of its groups was even founded by Gen. Colin Powell.


Gergen wrote that his first visit to City Year “was electrifying… there was so much vitality in the room that I came back and said, ‘I’m almost ready to give up my day job and go over there and work with them’.”

David Gergen is perhaps the most vocal proponent of a new wave of ’social entrepreneurs’ whose businesses are modeled on a ‘more-than-profit’ basis. Most of these groups aim to incorporate a partnership between the public & private sectors (sometimes known as fascism). In other words, Gergen hopes such privately-conceived organizations can benefit from government funds:

“The government… has all the money. If you could unite the energy, ideals, and innovativeness of social entrepreneurs with the resources of government, you would have a powerhouse.”

“My argument… is that social entrepreneurs need the government’s help as a partner and a financial supporter. The government shouldn’t take over these programs. Instead, I think we’re looking at new forms of social problem solving in which government enters into partnerships with social entrepreneurial organizations.”

Encouraging Obama to usher in a new era of New Deal-style programs, David Gergen wrote only days before Obama’s inauguration that his ‘Call to Service Can’t Start Soon Enough.’

“The moment has come for a president — echoing great leaders from Lincoln, to Roosevelt to Kennedy — to call forth Americans to an era of common sacrifice. The moment is Obama’s to seize.”

featured stories   National Service: David Gergen, City Year and the social change agenda City Year, among other groups, not only purports to help communities, but requires its members to undergo physical training (PT) and other activities reminiscent of a paramilitary organization. In fact, it sounds a lot like White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s 2006 warning to a reporter that compulsory service would include “jumping jacks.”

While that in itself is not so troubling, Emanuel made clear that such service organizations would also step up in a time of national crisis:

“It will be a common experience and we will be prepared, God forbid, God forbid that there is a chemical hit, another terrorist act or natural disaster becoming more frequent – there’ll be a body of citizens who are ready and capable and trained – that’s all you have to think about,” said Emanuel before smugly declaring, “We’re all here for you OK? It’s a circle of love.”

In fact, Americorps and its subsidiary organizations, including City Year, fall under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security. This is also true of the private (*but government affiliated) Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) . The blurring between the lines of public and private is, again, noticeable and potentially troubling.

Frank Morales writes (Homeland Defense: The Pentagon Declares War on America):

In the wake of 9/11, CNCS was fully integrated into “homeland defense efforts”. In March 2002, the Corporation issued a “notice of availability of funds to strengthen communities and organizations in using service and volunteers to support homeland security.” With an emphasis on “public safety” and “freeing up police time”, the grants offered under the announcement “are to assist communities in getting involved in the war against terrorism on the home front.” In the area of “public safety” the grants “will help provide members to support police departments… in tasks and other functions that can be performed by non-sworn officers.” Now mind you, the volunteers “are not armed, nor can they make arrests, but they carry out vital tasks including organizing neighborhood watch groups…” They also “organize communities to identify and respond to crime and disorder problems…”


City Year, among other groups, clearly has a global and even one-world outlook. Its directors, including David Gergen, and even some members have stated as much. One of City Year’s flyers even carries the slogan “BE THE CHANGE, ADVANCING GLOBAL CITIZEN SERVICE.”



David Gergen has criticized that Vietnam generation for failing to come together in a common cause, suggesting that collective sacrifice is part of what made the “greatest generation” of WWII so good. In March of 2007, he told the graduate students of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas– who are coming in behind the Baby Boomer generation– that they can hope to “restore some sense that we’re all in this together– in the sense of not only building a better America, but a better world.”

In a write-up about City Year, USA Today, recently noted the rise in service among the largely pro-Obama ‘millennial’ generation. They may have been inspired by disasters such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, along with the added motivation of mandatory programs.

“Unlike culturally polarized Baby Boomers or cynical Gen-Xers, this is “a generation of activist doers,” they write. More than 80% of Millennials did it, often because it was required.

David Gergen has long been an advocate of service.  Wikipedia even notes the government servant and CNN correspondent as a “well-known proponent of mandatory national service.”

It was Gergen who helped put on the ‘Service Forum’ on anniversary of September 11th during the 2008 campaign. Both McCain and Obama spoke in favor of greater service. Obama reiterated the need for a ‘civilian defense force’, restated his national service plan and prepared people for an era of sacrifice– including requirements on fuel emissions, energy efficiency and other “green” measures. Obama further emphasized the need to get youth involved in service from an early age.

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