The legacy of JFK's call to public service

Daily Circuit Friday Roundtable
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This week on the Friday Roundtable, our panelists examine the legacy of President John F. Kennedy and his championing of public service.

In his inaugural speech, JFK famously asked "ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."

In an era where there is so little faith in government, does his message still resonate?


The Shift in Public Service Since JFK's Famous Appeal

Fifty years ago, Kennedy rallied an army of young people to government service, then put them to work. Shortly after his election, he created his marquee initiative--the Peace Corps, which sent the nation's youth to work in Latin America, Africa, and India for a modest wage--and put his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver in charge of it. The Peace Corps took off immediately, receiving more than 11,000 completed applications in the first few months. Those who didn't go abroad were lured by Kennedy's charisma and energy to join him in Washington. During his time in office, the ranks of executive-branch employees grew by more than 85,000. (Washingtonian)

How JFK inspired a generation

Kennedy's defense of politics and his celebration of service went hand in hand with his assumption that individual success found its roots in social arrangements that made prosperity and achievement possible. No wonder so many heeded his call to join the Peace Corps and to flock to Washington. Imagine a time when working for government seemed as exciting as joining the tech industry does now. Imagine when Wall Street was sleepy and the public sphere was thrilling. (Anchorage Daily News)

Making a change at the ballot box

If you care about, for example, environmental justice, or the prison industrial complex, or combating poverty, "voting for the right candidate" is not a winning strategy. Challenging massive, entrenched systems takes mass movements encompassing an array of tactics--educational campaigns, media campaigns, direct action, marches, rallies, boycotts, canvassing, building trust and community, and much more.