In Florida, Clinton Calls for a Renewed Commitment to National Service
At a speech in Fort Pierce, Florida on Friday, Hillary Clinton issued a broad call for national service, building on her belief that we must do more to support Millennial activism and create pathways for young Americans to serve and to lead. Clinton set out a new national program dedicated to helping Americans participate in service opportunities with a special focus on younger Americans: a National Service Reserve where 5 million Americans would devote hours of volunteer service time towards solving pressing local challenges in their community. She would also increase AmeriCorps from 75,000 members to 250,000 members annually to fulfill the promise of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act; strengthen the Peace Corps; and expand service opportunities for Americans of all ages. It is a distinct contrast, she said, to Donald Trump's view of America as a hopeless broken place where "I alone can fix it," Clinton said.
She added, "I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. And I didn’t want this campaign to end without me talking about this issue that means so much to me. I’m going to end this campaign focusing on the issues closest to my heart – and this is one of them [...] And I’ll hope you’ll join me, because this – perhaps more than anything else – speaks to what is great and good about the United States."
Clinton said her speech, the fifth in a series of speeches on her vision of an America that is "Stronger Together," stemmed from her lifelong belief in public service: her Methodist faith taught her to "Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." She will take that belief in service that she has carried all her life, since her first job out of law school in the Children's Defense Fund, all the way to the White House, she said. Clinton also believes that one of America's best qualities is our culture of national service and volunteerism, whether exemplified by rebuilding schools, cleaning up neighborhoods, helping people find jobs or families find housing, or any of a million other kinds of service Americans perform every day.
Clinton's remarks as transcribed, are below: “Hello! Thank you! Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you so very much. Wow, what – what a wonderful welcome. It is great to be here in Fort Pierce in this beautiful theater. I love being in the Sunshine State. I really want to recognize a few people: U.S. Congresswoman Lois Frankel is here as you saw, Randy Perkins, a candidate for Congress, Kim Johnson, chair of the St. Lucie County Commission, Larry Lee Jr., state representative. Everyone, all of the elected officials, all of the students and young people, it is wonderful to be with you.
And I want to thank Eileen for her introduction. We know how hard that nurses like Eileen work, and now that she is retired, she is volunteering for our campaign. This woman never quit, and Eileen, we are so glad you are on our team.
I am grateful to all of the elected officials, all of the commissioners, the county commissioners, Martin County, St. Lucie, for all you do for the community, but especially for all you did this summer to clean up the algae that polluted the water, that threatened wildlife and made life hard for local residents and businesses. This is a serious and complicated problem, isn't it, for the entire Treasure Coast. And it is a reminder, if we needed it, how important good leadership is. So, I thank all the leaders for their commitment.
Now, there are just 39 days between now and November 8th. Just 39 days left in the most important election in our lifetimes.
We’ve got to make every single day count. We have to get more people registered to vote, get more people committed to turn out to vote. We have to drive home the stakes in this election: stronger families, safer communities and an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top. And underneath all of the rhetoric and the coverage and the back and forth, this campaign really comes down to two questions. What kind of future we want for ourselves, our kids and our grandkids, and how do we make it a reality?
Now, as I said it the other night – how many of you saw the debate?
Well as I said, I now have two grandchildren, and no offense to anybody, the two most wonderful, amazing, extraordinary. A little girl and a little boy. So I think a lot about the future. And you may have noticed that my opponent and I have different views about – well, nearly everything when it gets right down to it – not just about what makes America great, because I think America already is great – but about what we should do to make it even greater, and about that basic question about how progress happens at all.
My opponent believes in what I call a ‘strongman approach.' He stood on that stage at his convention and described a hopeless, broken nation. I am sorry, I am looking at you. I don't see that. That in no way resembles the strong, vibrant America I know. And here’s what he said. He said, ‘I alone can fix it.’ I alone?
Well, we have learned that that’s his way. One person getting supreme power and exercising it ruthlessly. That’s why he admires dictators like Vladimir Putin so much. But that’s not how change happens in America. It’s never just one person, not even someone as powerful as the president. Every good our country has ever achieved has always happened because people have worked together to make it a reality. Not just the wealthy or the powerful – all of us.
We see that every day across America, and I bet many of you have been a part of it. Maybe you taught kids to read, right? Or cleaned up your local park, or the beach, maybe you have organized a cancer walk, or you have run a food drive. Whatever it is, chances are you have done something to serve your community. And by extension, your country.
How many of you – just think back over your lives – how many of you have performed some kind of service of some sort for your community, for other people. The reason I know you have is because tens and tens of millions of Americans do some kind of volunteering in your hometowns every single year. It’s one of the best things about the American people. We are doers. We don’t just shrug our shoulders when we see something that needs fixing, we don’t get resigned or pathetic, or blame other people and turn on each other to find scapegoats. We roll up our sleeves, we get to work to try to make things better in our neighborhood, our community, our city, our state, our country.
This has been our story, the American story, since the beginning of our nation, and it is still going strong today. Now, for many Americans, including a lot of you here, serving our country has included serving in our Armed Forces.
People are starting to call out their services!
There is no greater service or sacrifice, and we are grateful to our men and women in uniform, to their families and our veterans every single day. But what’s so great is that national service can take many different forms, and it’s something that I believe in so deeply, that every stage of our lives gives us the chance, from grade school through grandparenthood, to find a way to give back.
We’ve got folks here today from AmeriCorps, which my husband created back in 1993, and I’ll tell you, to this day, it is one of his proudest achievements. Because very day, AmeriCorps volunteers are out there. They’re building houses, responding to natural disasters, helping people with disabilities find jobs, find safe places to live, and next week, on October 7th, AmeriCorps will celebrate a major milestone: their one-millionth member. I’ll tell you, Bill is really excited about this and so am I. And by the way, AmeriCorps has one of the best swearing in pledges I have ever heard. Here’s how it starts: ‘I will get things done for America.’ Isn’t that great? I think we should make that a national slogan.
Now we also have folks here today from City Year, which is part of AmeriCorps. And every day, they’re working with students who are risk of dropping out of school. They’re tutoring and mentoring and running after school clubs – all to help young people really discover how capable they really are and to be empowered and to stay in school. I’m really grateful to them.
We also have people here today from the Peace Corps, which represents the best of America to the world. Peace Corps volunteers are teaching English in Kosovo, staffing health centers in Nicaragua, supporting farmers in Nepal, distributing malaria nets in Uganda. Both as First Lady and as Secretary of State, I got to see the results of their work first hand. They are making the world a healthier, more prosperous and more peaceful place. Now, maybe not all of you have been a part of one of these programs, but I know you serve in different ways.
Maybe you volunteer through your school, or with your church or synagogue. Maybe you find through faith-based opportunities, as I did when I was a teenager, service opportunities. Because for many Americans, service is part of our faith. My running mate, Tim Kaine, volunteered in Honduras with Jesuits as a young man, and it changed his life. Or maybe your whole family volunteers together, Bill and Chelsea and I, every holiday season, would work at a food bank back in Arkansas. However you serve, it feels good, doesn’t it? To be part of something bigger than ourselves. To take our time and labor, and put it towards something good that can happen in our country and the world.
And you know something very interesting? Service makes us happier, it makes us healthier, and there are studies proving that. It’s not just how we feel, they’ve actually followed people. It can also help us find our next job, or our true calling in life. It’s a smart way to use our greatest asset in life, our people. And service does something important for us as a society. Too often, we Americans can become separated from each other, and I think a lot of people are feeling this way during this election.
It’s easy to surround ourselves with only those that think like us, talk like us, look like us, read the same news as us, that’s understandable to an extent. But it comes with a cost because it magnifies our differences, which then makes it harder to put those differences aside when our community or country needs us. There aren’t many places where people of all ages, all races, all backgrounds, all beliefs come together in common cause. But service is one of them, and that’s one of the reasons I think it's so valuable, because in addition to the good work it does, it helps us reconnect with each other to feel more a part of our shared American life.
I believe that one of the jobs of President is to encourage more service, to help more Americans answer President Kennedy’s call. You know it: Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.’
But sometimes it's hard to figure out. How do you make a difference, especially with everything else going on in our lives? And too often volunteering becomes something only people with lots of time and financial security can do. But that's not how it should be. Everyone should be able to contribute.
So what if we, as a country, made it easier for everybody to do that, for everybody to give back? What if we created more service opportunities for Americans of all ages, invested in programs that work and encouraged entrepreneurs to add a social component to their businesses? What if we strengthened the culture of service in America so it wasn’t just something that we did one day a year, but it became a regular part of our lives. I think that would reflect our values and would tap into something so great about America.
I talk a lot about how America is an exceptional nation. We’re not exceptional just because of the size of our military or the size of our economy. We’re exceptional because of the generosity and ingenuity of our people.
Way back, nearly 200 years ago, a Frenchman came to the United States, his name was Alexis de Tocqueville. He was travelling around, trying to figure out, ‘What is this new place called America? They fought a revolution. Who are they?’ And he saw how we had set up our government, and we had three branches, and everything that our founders really put into place. But the thing that made the biggest impression on him was our spirit of volunteerism that made a democracy as diverse and ambitious as ours possible. If I’m elected president this fall, I want to build on that strength by making a major push in support of more national service. So here’s what I plan to do.
First, let’s triple AmeriCorps. That was the goal of my friend and the great Senator Ted Kennedy. It was laid out in a law named in his honor, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. It’s finally time we get it done. Every year there are hundreds of thousands of more applications for AmeriCorps than there are spots in the program, so if we grow the program from 75,000 annual members to 250,000, we’re going to give more people who already want to serve the chance to do so.
Then I want to double the college scholarships that AmeriCorps members earn through their service, and I want to find ways for more students to get college credit for service because I know too many talented, committed young people who pass up serving with AmeriCorps because, with their student loans, they can’t afford it. So let’s lighten that burden. If you do national service, we will begin a program to forgive your loans, because you are giving back to your country. And let’s keep working to the ultimate goal of making it possible for any American to serve full time if they want to.
Now second, let’s grow the Peace Corps. Since President Kennedy launched it 55 years ago, it’s given nearly a quarter of a million Americans the experience of a lifetime, and it’s fostered friendship and cooperation between Americans and people in more than 100 nations. We’ve got to do more of that in the world today. We need more Americans of all ages around the world showing our values, serving people. So let’s make it possible for more Americans to be a part of this extraordinary program.
Third, let’s expand service opportunities for people of all ages. Right? Now, let’s be fair, the younger generation is way ahead on this. I've talked to so many young people who are deeply thoughtful about how your lives impact others and the world. Service isn't just something to do to check a box before graduation, it really is woven into your lives. And many who are just getting started in your careers, say that having a social impact is more important to you than getting a job that yes, may pay a salary but doesn't give you any meaning or purpose in your lives.
Now I also want to get older Americans more involved. Service isn’t something only students and young people do. I know that. So I intend to make sure that 10 percent of AmeriCorps slots go to Americans over the age of 55. Let’s give people an encore opportunity after they’ve ended their formal careers so they can apply a lifetime of knowledge and experience to a stronger community.
And finally, I want to create a new means for people to serve in serious, meaningful ways without a full time commitment. AmeriCorps is a full time commitment. The Peace Corps is a full time commitment. The Armed Forces are a full time commitment. But the Armed Forces has another model. The Reserves – right? It gives people the chance to make a high impact contribution while still building careers and pursuing their dreams in other ways. So let’s do something like that in the civilian space. Let’s call it the National Service Reserve.
And here’s the idea. If you join the National Service Reserve, you will receive some basic training, just like you would in the military reserves, and then when your city or state needs you, you’ll get the call. Say a natural disaster strikes and the Red Cross needs all hands on deck. Or maybe, like the crisis in Flint, and clean water has to be distributed every day to a lot of families. Or maybe your city launches a major public health campaign to reduce drug abuse or promote mental health. You will then be sent into action. Now some of these assignments maybe just be for a few days, a month, some might be longer term. But they will directly address a vital need in your own community.
And one of the other advantages is you can help meet that need while still being a full-time student, having a job, taking care of your family. You won’t have to make service your only priority. Our goal is 5 million people spread across all 50 states, and we will have an open door to people of all ages, but we want to put a special focus on people under 30 who've said again and again they want to have a bigger impact in their communities, but they can't leave their jobs, understandably. We’ll work with governors and mayors, Republicans and Democrats, because I want this to be a true bipartisan, public-private partnership.
I also want to include businesses, colleges and universities who have unique resources to offer. And because we want workers and students to know that as they make this contribution, their schools and their employers will have their backs. I really think a National Service Reserve could make a difference for cities and states. There’s so much work to be done and so many people who want to help do it. So let’s bridge that divide, get people working together in ways that can help communities.
Now, I don’t think you’ll hear anything about this from my opponent. And you know what? I think that’s a shame, because national service has always been a bipartisan goal. Of course, President Kennedy started the Peace Corps and my husband started AmeriCorps – but President Nixon signed the Domestic Volunteer Service Act. President George H.W. Bush created the White House Office of National Service. And both President George W. Bush and President Obama have been huge champions of service. This should be something that we all can get behind. And when you listen to what’s being said in this campaign, it can be discouraging, right? It can seem hard to find any common ground so it makes it even more important that we come together where, whenever we can. Now, I am well aware that candidates don’t usually focus on national service in the final stretch of a hotly fought presidential election. Some might say, ‘Well hey, my gosh, you’ve only got 39 days to go. Why aren’t you just out there beating up on your opponent and doing everything to get the vote out and all the rest of it? Well, I’ll do that, but – I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and I did not want this campaign to end without talking about it because it means a lot to me. I’m trying to end the campaign focusing on issues that are really close to my heart – and this is one of them.
For me, service is really all about fulfilling the instruction of my Methodist faith, and you can see part of the creed I like to follow behind me: ‘Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.’ Now, I’ve carried those words with me ever since I heard them as a little girl, and it’s an idea that really got into my head and my heart. But you know what’s kept me going are the people that I’ve met. And in a country founded on liberty and equality, I can’t think of a more important notion than every one of us is valuable. We all deserve respect. We all should listen to each other. We all can make our mark on the world. And when we come together in common purpose, we can do so much more than we could ever do on our own.
That’s why ‘Stronger Together’ is more than just a slogan. It’s a course of action. So here’s what I want to do. I want you to hear me pledge that this will be a vital aspect of my presidency. And I want you to help me bring our nation together – to solve our problems, strengthen our communities. To join with people across America who care about service, because this speaks to both what is great and good about the United States. America is great because we are good. There are lots of examples. We are going to be putting examples up on my website of people who have served and who are inspirations. But I want everybody here to know that it can be done. We can do more, and we can provide the opportunities to enlist more people.
There are so many examples in this community and communities across America – 39 days left. This is the choice: do we lift each other up, or do we tear each other down? Do we listen and respect each other, or do we scapegoat, point fingers, and insult each other? Well, I’ll tell you what side I’m going to be on, and with your help, we’re going to demonstrate on November 8th, what kind of country we really are.
Thank you and God bless you!”