Service Nation, Part I: Time Magazine Announces Public Service Campaign.—

[UPDATE: For some of Service Nation's response, see the update below.] A relatively new group, Service Nation, is planning to kick off a campaign with a Summit for "National Service" on September 11. Time Magazine has signed on to promote the effort. The website trumpets its training of "Change Agents" in cooperation with "Change, Inc." Its blog is called ChangeWire. Does this theme sound familiar?

The website makes it clear that it is not just calling for individuals to get involved, but it is calling for a new National Service Act that will involve the government in transforming American society:

To begin this journey, Service Nation will unite leaders from every sector of American society with hundreds of thousands of citizens in a national campaign to call on the next President and Congress to enact a new era of service and citizenship in America, an era in which all Americans will work together to try and solve our greatest and most persistent societal challenges. This campaign will launch with a Service Nation Summit, Sept. 11-12 in New York City, and build with a national grassroots movement aimed at inspiring widespread public support for a new and transformational National Service Act that will encourage all Americans to step forward and take the lead in bridging our divides, strengthening our communities, and building a more vibrant democracy.

The five co-chairs of the Service Nation Summit include Obama aide Caroline Kennedy, Vartan Gregorian (President of the Carnegie Corporation and former Democratic donor), Rick Stengel (Managing Editor of TIME Magazine and former speechwriter for Bill Bradley), Bill Novelli (CEO of AARP and former donor to both Republican and Democratic candidates, including John McCain in 1999), and Alma Powell (Chair of America's Promise Alliance and wife of Colin Powell). Gregorian and Novelli were not originally listed as co-chairs when the Summit was first announced.

The 64 members of the Leadership Counsel include three [two] potential Democratic Vice Presidential candidates: Bill Richardson, Sam Nunn, Jennifer Granholm -- as well as one potential Republican Vice Presidential candidate: Rob Portman.

What is this National Service Act that Service Nation favors?

Charles Rangel's National Service Act, which is [suppoorted by some segments of the movement, but not Service Nation, and is now] languishing before Congress, provides for a universal draft with two years [service] for virtually all persons aged 18-42, with no deferment for college. The purpose of Rangel's bill is:

"To require all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service, either as a member of the uniformed services or in civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security . . . ."

Here is how the civilian service is described in the bill (sec 102(b)):

a civilian capacity that, as determined by the President, promotes the national defense, including national or community service and service related to homeland security.

Note the interpretation of community service as promoting national defense, just as in Barack Obama's July 2, 2008 speech, a juxtaposition that confused most bloggers. Under Rangel's bill, if one is selected for induction into the military, one may choose instead to do civilian service. With unintentional irony the bill calls this mandatory service "Voluntary Service."

Sec. 103(e) Voluntary Service — A person subject to induction under this title may--

(1) volunteer to perform national service in lieu of being inducted; or

(2) request permission to be inducted at a time other than the time at which the person is otherwise called for induction.

In the Wikipedia entry on Rangel's statute is this intriguing statement:

The Universal National Service Act of 2007 is primarily sponsored by Congressman Charles Rangel of New York. Advocates for National Service include Senator Chris Dodd, Time Magazine Editor Rick Stengel, and writer Jason Blindauer.

This is the same Rick Stengel who is a co-chair of the Service Nation Summit and the same Jason Blindauer, whose organization is listed as one of the 100 members of Service Nation's organizing committee and is one of the leaders of the movement for a National Service Act.

The Americans for a National Service Act (ANSA), for which Blindauer is listed as the "Coordinator," indicates that it is part of Service Nation's campaign. His organization's website gives some idea about what the goals of Service Nation are:

Service Nation Campaign

Service Nation is a 16-month non-partisan grassroots and grass top political campaign intent on pushing the issue of National Service to the forefront of American life and convincing the next President and Congress to put into law a Voluntary National Service Act by September of 2009.

The secondary goal of Service Nation is to set America on a trajectory to become a nation of universal national service by 2020.

Who is Service Nation?

At the top, Service Nation is comprised of [here 17 people are listed, the last three of which are] Caroline Kennedy, Samantha Power, and TIME Magazine Editor Rick Stengel. The Campaign also includes many active and retired general/flag grade military officers.

At its nerve center Service Nation is coordinated by Alan Khazei and the hard-working and talented people of "Be The Change." Its nerve endings are 92 different organizations from across the country including

Americans for a National Service Act.

At its roots, military, civil service, and social service veterans who have proven through action their dedication to serving America carry the message of Service Nation.

The last and most important component of Service Nation is YOU.

What are the policy objectives of Service Nation?

Currently, less than 4 million Americans are involved in full-time service, and less than 1/3 of us are involved in part-time service. The main policy objective of Service Nation is to engage an additional 5 million Americans in service by 2012.

So the main policy objective is a large increase in service by 2012 and the secondary goal is universal (ie, mandatory) national service for all young Americans by 2020. The ultimate goal then of Service Nation is universal service such as required in Rangel's bill, but most likely for one year rather than two.

Here are Service Nation's more specific goals as laid out in Powerpoint slides on their website (number 13 is mandatory universal service for both men and women):

Engage 1 million Americans in full-time service, leveraging an additional 100 million volunteers each year.

1. Enroll one million Americans annually in a revitalized and expanded AmeriCorps national service program. Create new corps focused on education, public health, disaster relief, and energy conservation.

2. Send 100,000 Americans overseas each year through the Peace Corps, Volunteers for Prosperity and Global Service Fellowships.

3. Engage students in service learning opportunities by expanding Learn and Serve America to reach 3 million students.

4. Engage teenagers in a "Summer of Service" to address problems in their own backyard.

5. Provide opportunities to returning war veterans who want to continue to serve their country through a civilian service opportunity at home or abroad.

6. Make permanent the Citizen Corps and engage 500,000 Americans.

7. Create a new initiative of "Encore Service Careers" for baby-boomers and seniors.

8. Offer new support and performance standards for 400 volunteer centers.

9. Create the permanent National Service Council to play a similar role as the National Security Council and National Economic Council.

Create a Democratic Renewal in our Nation.

10. Establish a U.S. Public Service Academy.

11. Convene new Citizen Congresses.

12. Create regular Youth Constitutional Conventions at the National Constitution Center.

13. Launch a debate about why and how America should become a nation of universal national service by 2020: debating baby bond, lottery draft, new GI Bill, etc.

Foster Social Entrepreneurship

14. Create a Social Investment Fund to create a research and development (R&D) arm and growth capital market for the social sector. The fund would provide the financial infrastructure and leverage needed to identify and support promising innovations in the social sector, test their impact, and take them to scale.

15. Offer social entrepreneur fellowships to graduates of national service programs who have identified a need and a creative solution to meeting that need in order to bring their program model to fruition.

16. Create an office of "Social Innovation and Results" in the White House.

This is a breathtaking set of proposals that would create a bureaucracy that indeed might be "just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded" as our military. It would be much larger than the military. Note the founding of a new National Service Academy like the existing military academies.

Service Nation's short-term goal may be a staggering increase in voluntary national service and the federal bureaucracy, but the ultimate goal of Service Nation is a universal draft by the year 2020, as they openly disclose.


1. In response to my posts, Service Nation has now scrubbed its list of goals (quoted above) from its website. You can still read the first 13 of Service Nation's goals on the website of one of its members (but see below).

Number 13 was: "Launch a debate about why and how America should become a nation of universal national service by 2020 . . . ."

Note that the debate is not over WHETHER it should become a nation of universal national service, but only WHY and HOW it should become one.

2. Ilya Somin has already posted on Service Nation's denial that it favors mandatory universal national service, including quoting a FAQ from their website on the issue.

As I wrote above and Ilya repeated, I don't see how a national community service program can be both universal and voluntary.

And, of course, several other countries do have programs of "universal national service" either for men or for both sexes. To my knowledge (I might be wrong), none of these systems are voluntary.

One of the advantages of blogging is that I was able to quote all of Service Nation's main goals verbatim from their website, so people could see for themselves both what they said in their own words and why I interpreted them to have as a goal mandatory service.

One has to recognize that even some universal service programs characterized as "voluntary" by their proponents are fully mandatory, as I showed regarding Rangel's plan. And Service Nation did not describe its goal in item 13 as voluntary. Proponents of mandatory universal service programs rarely describe their own proposals as "mandatory," since that word rightly carries a stigma.

Despite Service Nation's vigorous claims of having been misunderstood and of favoring only voluntary service, their email to me did not even mention item 13 or their own expressed 2020 goal. Since all of their other goals seem to be intended to be enacted in sweeping 2009 legislation or executive acts, if they intended only voluntary programs, I don't understand why they would want to wait a decade or so by setting a deadline of 2020."

I hope to get more clarification of their position next week.

3. I wrote above:

The Americans for a National Service Act (ANSA), for which Blindauer is listed as the "Coordinator," indicates that it is part of Service Nation's campaign. His organization's website gives some idea about what the goals of Service Nation are . . . ."

In an email, Tim Zimmerman responded:

We have many partners, with many different views on service. Jason is a great guy, a valued member of our coalition, and a veteran of the Iraq War who knows more than most about the meaning of service. But all facts, goals, and beliefs attributed to ServiceNation really should come from the ServiceNation website at

I cited the site of Americans for a National Service Act, coordinated by Jason Blindauer, for several reasons. As noted above, he was mentioned by Wikipedia along with the co-chair of Service Nation's Summit, Rick Stengel (of TIME). Second, ANSA is a significant player in the movement for a National Service Act in its own right. Third, ANSA, a "valued member" of Service Nation, had the most extensive discussion of Service Nation's views on the web. Fourth, the information I quoted was Blindauer's (or ANSA's) description of the Service Nation movement; it was the best source anywhere for the centrality of Alan Khazei to Service Nation, a fact that I learned from ANSA's site and that I definitely wanted to include.

Fifth, if an organization is being accused of being excessively restrictive of human freedom, it might be best not to respond by arguing that "all facts, goals, and beliefs attributed to ServiceNation really should come from the ServiceNation website . . . ."

Such an approach would be the end of journalism. If someone were doing a profile of Barack Obama, couldn't they include information provided by Obama's friends? What I quoted about Service Nation from Blindauer's site was a description of Service Nation that could have been written by a journalist. Since Zimmerman calls him "a great guy, a valued member of our coalition," and since Zimmerman does not suggest that Blindauer's description is in any way incorrect, it seems odd to complain that I quote (presumably fair) descriptions of Service Nation from one of its valued members. I think it entirely proper to quote members who know the organization about what the organization is and who is involved, especially when that information is not at all inconsistent with what is on Service Nation's website.

Last, because Service Nation has scrubbed its website of its list of goals, unfortunately Blindauer's ANSA website, which still lists Service Nation's first 13 goals above, is at the moment the best place on the web to see what the goals of Service Nation actually are — unless Service Nation has significantly changed direction in response to my expose, which is unlikely but not impossible.

4. In an email Tim Zimmerman argues that Service Nation does not support Charles Rangel's bill for mandatory universal service. In the post above, I didn't say that they did (because I couldn't tell for sure in part because Service Nation was not advocating universal service in 2009, but rather by 2020). I was describing various strands in the movement. Also, Rangel's bill (quoted above) shows that in the movement for universal service, sometimes what is explicitly defined as "voluntary service" is fully mandatory.

In an email, Tim Zimmerman contrasted his view with Rangel's bill:

We do not support mandatory national service or a universal draft. And nowhere on our web site, or in any public utterance by Alan Khazei, has this been said. Rather, we support the idea of voluntary community and national service. We are working to both inspire more Americans to volunteer their time and to encourage our leaders to create service opportunities for every American who wants to volunteer their time in their community, or chooses to serve his or her country for a year in AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, or some other national service program.