This week's newspaper column. Read it in the Hattiesburg American.
Over the years, I, along with millions of fellow Americans, have enjoyed the fruits of an initiative born the better part of a century ago.
In 1933, the United States was mired in the midst of the Great Depression, and legions of Americans were unemployed and starving. As part of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Civilian Conservation Corps came into being for the purpose of putting able-bodied men to work.
The Civilian Conservation Corps, better known as the CCC, went about constructing park facilities including campgrounds, vacation cabins, recreational trails, mountain lookouts, picnic areas, and a host of other amenities throughout the United States. CCC crews planted over 3 billion trees, took part in extensive erosion control projects, built roads, and erected fire towers. Much of that infrastructure still graces our national landscape.
(To see examples of a few CCC structures, go to my blog – the New American Village – at newamericanvillage.blogspot.com.)
CCC crews also pitched in as a ready national resource fighting fires throughout the country, and providing relief and rebuilding services after a major hurricane in New England, blizzards in Utah, and several major floods.
But far from being a “make-work” program, the men of the CCC were taught literacy and construction skills. Their hand-crafted park buildings of indigenous materials – a very green method of building - stand out today as some of the most beautiful structures in our park system, and the durability of their work is self-evident by virtue of the vast and diverse inventory of CCC facilities still in use today. As the depression waned, and jobs returned to the private sector, the men of the CCC were in great demand because they possessed practical, demonstrated trade skills, and as one employer put it, “they knew how to put in a good day’s work.”
The CCC was an immensely popular program. A Gallup poll in 1936 indicated that 82 percent of the general public was in favor of the program, including overwhelming majorities from both Democrat and Republican respondents.
With recent reports that one in eight Americans currently rely on food stamps for some or all of their food, and with millions unemployed or underemployed, where is our modern day Civilian Conservation Corps?
Look around you; there’s plenty of work to be done. Instead of us, as a society, doling out unemployment benefits, why not fashion a renewed version of this wildly successful employment and training program?
It has been popular group-think of late to say “government programs are never the answer.” But after a decade of political momentum on the side of demonizing the government and casting our economic fortunes solely with the private sector, why are so many people now suffering?
Knee-jerk platitudes and ideological clichés do not help build a country or put food on the table. The Civilian Conservation Corps, in fact, did just that.