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Remarks on the ABC Radio Network: "The Voluntary Way"

October 06, 1968

These years of turmoil have shocked Americans into a recognition of how enormous are the social tasks ahead of us, and how urgent.

Faced with an urban crisis, the first instinct of many has been to demand vast new government programs and vast new expenditures—whether a "Marshall Plan for the cities," or a doubling of public housing funds or a government-guaranteed income for everyone.

Yet even at best, these government programs would only scratch the surface of need. They would drain the Federal treasury to soothe the public conscience, but they would fail—because they would leave untapped the greatest reservoir of neglected resources in America today: the energies and the spirit of the American people themselves.

Enlisting People

Government has an important role. But it's only part of the mix. We need to enlist the energies of that dynamic four-fifths of our economy represented by private enterprise, and we also need to enlist those millions of Americans who stand ready to serve and to help, if only they knew what to do and how.

It's small wonder that more and more people, and not only the young, are in a mood of open revolt against the machinery and the men of government—against an increasingly impersonal bureaucracy, a top-heavy Washington, a statistical model of services that dehumanize man and perpetuate a cycle of dependency.

Program after program aimed at "establishing domestic tranquility and securing the general welfare" has had almost the opposite effect—less tranquility and more violence, more public "welfare" and less personal well-being.

As government has strained to do more, our people have felt constrained to do less. The more the Federal government has tried to solve all of our problems, the more it has seemed to fail.

Public programs are attacked by the very people for whom they were created; and our young people, our most precious resource, are disillusioned and disaffected by the results.

The problem lies not with the American people, but with a government that has lost touch with the people.

Six months ago I delivered a series of two nationwide radio addresses titled "Bridges to Human Dignity." In these, I outlined a new approach to break the cycle of dependency. I detailed an extensive list of programs to bring the races together in peace, and to bring hope to the hopeless. I focused primarily on things that could be done now by government, and by private enterprise—and especially on new ways in which government incentives could be used to mobilize private enterprise more effectively in meeting our public needs.

Third Set of Bridges

Tonight, I want to talk about the third set of bridges we need—the bridges of voluntary action by people who care.

In many ways, these are the most important of all. For the tasks we face are, above all, human tasks. Unless the personal element is restored, we cannot succeed. But if our human resources are enlisted on the scale required, we can hardly fail.

Those resources are available—willing and waiting.

Voluntary Organizations

There are more than a million independent, voluntary organizations in America today. There are 320,000 churches, with more than a hundred million members. There are two thousand United Funds and Community Chests, 3,500 voluntary hospitals, six thousand private foundations, more than 100,000 voluntary welfare agencies. Thirty-six million Americans belong to fraternal and service organizations.

The potential is greater still. The Gallup polling organization has estimated than 61 million adult Americans would be willing to contribute 245 million man-hours every week to voluntary activities.

Think of what that could accomplish!

It's more than twice as many man-hours as all the civilian employees of the U.S. government could put in, even if they worked full-time on nothing else.

That's the measure of the American willingness; that's one dimension of the American spirit.

It's also a measure of our neglected opportunity.

This voluntary tradition is deeply rooted in American history, and in the American character. More than a century ago Alexis de Tocqueville described it as our most "distinguishing characteristic." Today, it's needed as seldom before—needed in the cities, needed in the depressed rural areas, needed where government has failed.

"Citizen Initiative"

Beginnings are being made. All across America, there's a springing up of "citizen initiative" in public planning and problem-solving. We see it in the insistence by local school boards on greater control over the quality of education; in the establishment of neighborhood development corporations; in the creation of private student aid funds and the organization of ghetto industries.

Exciting new trails are being blazed—and in city after city, determined people are showing the reach of private ingenuity.

Just the other day, for example, I met in Detroit with a group of people assembled by Governor Romney. They were men, women; black, white, of all ages and backgrounds, but they had one thing in common: they have been putting the voluntary principle into practice with phenomenal success.

These were people who cared; who acted—and their achievements are an example for all America.

One of them had set up a program for the hard-core unemployed, not only to train them for jobs, but also to give them the basic understanding of how to get and hold a job that so many lack. Another had a program that had led thousands of school drop-outs to go back to school and finish their education. Another had pioneered a program of home ownership for the poor. Another had established a community-owned business development corporation that provided loans and technical assistance for new businesses in the ghetto. Others had found jobs for thousands of unemployed, or found ways to turn a neighborhood without pride into a community with pride, or provided basic education that allowed workers at the bottom of the ladder to move up. And there were more.

Motivation, Pride, Dignity

The point is that in jobs, housing, education, and more fundamentally in those intangible but vital factors of motivation and pride and dignity, these people had actual, functioning programs that had changed the lives of tens of thousands of people—and they had done it through voluntary effort.

What they have done can be multiplied, and it must be.

In the course of that meeting in Detroit, a question that strikes at the heart of America's need was trenchantly put—in three simple words—by a remarkable young Negro schoolteacher, Mrs. Carole Williams. She was describing what had lead her, a year ago, to establish a Volunteer Placement Corps for graduates of Detroit's ghetto high schools.

A survey had revealed a shocking statistic: that in the first few months after graduation, only 10 per cent of those graduates were being placed in jobs, colleges or job training programs. As Mrs. Williams pondered that failure and its cost, she was led to wonder what could be done about it and who could do it—and then, she said, she put the question to herself this way: "Is it I?"

Was she the one who could help?

In putting the question, she found the answer. Yes, And she acted— at first alone. Already the placement corps that she founded only a year ago has nearly 500 volunteers who scout job and college scholarship opportunities, and who counsel and advise high school seniors both before and after graduation. Of the 2,000 June graduates reached by her program, 85 per cent have been placed, and more than 500 of them are in college.

"Is it I?"

If every American would take those words into his heart, the nation would be transformed. For they reach what government cannot: the qualities of heart, of caring, that are the difference between impersonal bureaucracy and personal concern. It's these qualities that make efforts like Mrs. Williams' succeed where government programs fail. It's these that bridge the human gulf, that touch the spirit, and spark that sense of personal worth so essential if the cycle of despair is to be broken.

One-to-One Relationship

Time and again, those who have run successful private anti-poverty programs make this point: that the key to success lies in the one-to-one relationship, in the person-to-person bond—in the knowledge that some one person cares enough to help. This, government cannot create; only a person can.

These voluntary efforts won't have the place they deserve until we have leaders in Washington who are genuinely committed to the voluntary way. Those who consider government programs the first resort will look down on voluntary efforts as a last resort. The result will be what we have today: lack of information, lack of co-ordination, active competition by government agencies for attention and for staff. The result will be a bureaucratic attitude that either ignores voluntary efforts or tries to subordinate them to Federal programs.

Simply by providing information, the government can give an enormous stimulus to volunteer activity.

For almost every community problem that exists in America, solutions have been found somewhere. Slums have been successfully rehabilitated, unemployables have been employed, cities and rural areas have been beautified, pollution has been curbed, student activism has been channeled into productive action.

But all too often, the only people who know about it are those who live where it's been done. People willing and eager to help don't know where to turn or what to do.

National Information Clearing-house

As one of the first tasks of the new Administration, therefore, I intend to set up a national clearing-house for information on voluntary activities— on what's been tried, what the difficulties have been and what the solutions are. By setting up a comprehensive, computerized data bank, the government can make it possible for groups or individuals anywhere in the country to discover at once what the experience of other communities has been, whom to contact for more information, where particular skills can be utilized and where needed skills are available.

But I intend to go beyond making information available. I will expect Federal departments concerned with social problems all to be actively dedicated to the stimulation of new voluntary efforts—and I will expect the Secretaries of those departments to make this a personal responsibility.

It's time for the Federal establishment to winnow out its own programs, and determine those for which primary reliance can be placed on voluntary efforts. Then it must encourage voluntary organizations to move in and take over.

But it should lead, not push; it should encourage, not coerce.

The whole strength of the voluntary sector lies in its voluntary nature. To trifle or tamper with this voluntary nature is to risk destroying it.

The usual task of government is to exercise authority: to tax, to regulate, to give orders or instructions. Yet these are things it cannot do where private initiatives are concerned.

Too often in the past, Federal assistance has led to Federal planning; the result has been to subordinate volunteer efforts to government efforts, and to erode initiative. We cannot afford to let volunteers become mere foot-soldiers in a battle directed from Washington.

As the nation's first citizen, the President should be the chief patron of citizen efforts.

Marshalling Moral Authority

I intend to marshal the moral authority of that office to the fullest, to set priorities, to point out where the needs are, to encourage and reward citizens efforts to meet those needs.

The President has immense power to confer recognition on a worthy cause. For example, Franklin Roosevelt did so for the March of Dimes; the next President can do so for those activities designed to help the disadvantaged, to make our cities livable and to bring the light of hope to those who have no hope.

In a Nixon Administration, there will be a new measure of reliance on voluntary efforts, and a new level of official public recognition of their immense contribution to the betterment of life in America.

There will be new awards for public service, and a new place for the leaders of voluntary activity in the councils of government. IPs time Washington listened more to those who have been on the firing-line in the battle for better communities. It's time they told Washington their needs, and Washington adjusted its policies to fit those needs, rather than the other way around.

For this is the American way.

Leadership That Believes In People

To accomplish this, we need leadership that believes in people; leadership that will concentrate government efforts on what it can do best, and that will summon the people to do what they can do best. In asking the people to lend their hands and give of their hearts, the next President will be asking America to be itself again.

This is one of the great questions the election of 1968 is about: whether we continue to rely more on government and less on people, or whether we turn our ingenuity toward finding new ways to enlist the people in shaping a future that is genuinely their own.

The present Administration has been so transfixed by Federal power that it has ignored the power of people.

The next President must move consciously and deliberately to inspire those voluntary efforts that bring freedom alive. Only if we restore the spirit of voluntarism to its historic place can we heal the deeper troubles we suffer from. In people helping people, we can find the spiritual cement to put our country together again, and to make our nation whole by making its people one.

APP NOTE: From section two of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "To Make Our People One".

Richard Nixon, Remarks on the ABC Radio Network: "The Voluntary Way" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/326765

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