The Politics and Civics of National Service

The Politics and Civics of National Service: Lessons from the Civilian Conservation Corps, VISTA, and AmeriCorps

In 1933 Franklin Roosevelt created America’s first, largest, and most highly esteemed domestic national service program: the Civilian Conservation Corps. As part of the CCC, Americans worked to rehabilitate, protect, and build the nation’s natural resources. Despite its success, the CCC was short lived. Why did this program die while later, more controversial national service programs, such as Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and AmeriCorps, survive? And why—given the hardwon continuation and expansion of AmeriCorps—is national service less available as an option today than it was in 1933?

In Politics and Civics of National Service, Melissa Bass focuses on the history, current relevance, and impact of domestic national service. She argues that only by examining programs over time can we understand national service’s successes and limitations, both in terms of its political support and its civic lessons. Based on extensive archival and documentary research, supplemented with interviews, The Politics and Civics of National Service provides the first detailed policy history of VISTA and AmeriCorps and of America’s main national service programs taken together as a whole.

Moreover, Bass furthers our understanding of twentieth-century American political development by comparing programs founded during three distinct political eras—the New Deal, the Great Society, and the early Clinton years—and tracing them over time. To a remarkable extent, the CCC, VISTA, and AmeriCorps reflect the policymaking ethos and political controversies of their times, illuminating principles that hold well beyond the field of national service.

The Politics and Civics of National Service expertly evaluates the civic effects of national service policy in the context of political development in the United States. At the same time, by emphasizing the programs’ effects on citizenship and civic engagement, this volume deepens our understanding of how programs can act as “public policy for democracy.”