02 December 2008

What is Community Service?

The newest Nation magazine has an odd item by Kristina Rizga that offers three recommendations for young people who'd been active in the Obama campaign and might want to continue along a track of "community service." Her favored options are: "Be like Obama: become a community organizer;" "Join the national service;" and "Become a politician."

I don't think this list would have disturbed me a few months ago, but something seems wrong with it now. Don't take this the wrong way, but wouldn't the most effective form of community service at this time be to create jobs for people? Yet only one of Rizga's options, community organizing, encompasses any form of job creation -- "green jobs," of course. Politics may strike some Nation readers as the ideal way to create jobs, but I don't think I need to be a conservative or get labeled one for suggesting that the private sector might be a more immediate way to the same goal.

What bugs me about this, I think, is the assumption that the private sector is someone else, that other people, perhaps an entirely different class of people, can handle the entrepreneurial end of things, while the highest aspiration for young progressives should apparently be to regulate those people. Yet you could argue that entrepreneurship would be the most effective form of community organizing, especially if you practice a more progressive entrepreneurship through greater payroll equality or workplace democracy. It can't be disputed that Americans today need to make money by making things they and the rest of the world can use. But Rizga, and by extension The Nation, threaten to embody the reactionary stereotype of "progressives" who are more interested in more fairly dividing a shrinking pie than in baking new ones.

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