Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Laying Groundwork for Post-Inaugural Citizen Service

The inauguration arm of the Obama transition is organizing a "national day of service" on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend-- itself established as a time to contribute a little something extra to the world around you -- and in it, they're building the architecture for a continuing service corps beyond inauguration weekend. The project echoes the campaign: the inspiration and equipment coming from the top, with the fleshing out of events and projects bubbling from the bottom up.

People can create their own events or find local events in their communities on (PIC = Presidential Inaugural Committee), much like An email that went out from the transition detailed a pretty broad definition of what sort of events they have in mind: "These can be events that orient people to your organization's work, engage people in direct service, or bring people together to reflect on Dr. King's legacy and how they can commit to becoming more engaged citizens." The whole thing is being headed up by Buffy Wicks, Obama's campaign director in Missouri.

If I were staying in New York for inauguration weekend, I'd find ample opportunities to serve near me, with more than 50 events within 100 miles of Brooklyn. There's a food drive at an Arab-American family center and a chance to serve at Housing Works, the AIDS/homelessness center in Manhattan. One particularly neat event: Biscotti per Carita, which seems to roughly translate to "biscotti for charity." Children and their families from an Italian school in Yonkers are bringing the cookies to children and seniors in area hospitals. Cambiamento!

All the events go into a central database on the PIC site. (You'll need a PIC account to participate.) By default, events are capped at 100 miles from your location. But through a bit of URL trickery and using as a location Lebanon, Kansas, the geographic center of the United States, I was able to turn up a full list. There are about 460 events planned thus far. Here are the all the events, in XML. Sprinkled among the blood drives and river cleanups are some slightly less obvious sessions. The West Virginia State Auditors Office, for example, is hosting a training session on money fraud perpetrated via mail and the Internet.

A National Day of Service gives people a taste of volunteering in their communities, and it looks like the Obama organization has an eye on funneling that one day into a sustained self-organized service of some kind. A guide being distributed by organizers contains organizing techniques (grab emails, craft narratives) ripped from the campaign. A description of a sample event ends with "[S]everal volunteers help record the sign-in information, record a story from the day, and share pictures from the day." The PIC database could go to seed an ongoing citizen-service program, like a Craigslist for Service......

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