One Nation Indivisible | John Bridgeland | TEDxPennsylvaniaAvenue

Translator: Delia Cohen
Reviewer: Helena Bedalli Close your eyes. Imagine you’re 22 years old,
perhaps just out of college. You get a notice by mail or on your iPhone
that it’s time to serve your country. The service is voluntary but expected,
and all your friends are doing it. And you have choices:
you can sign up for City Year, Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity,
or the Peace Corps. Or you can enlist: in the Army, Navy,
Air Force, Coast Guard, or Marines. I think I got them all. Part of you is really excited
for the adventure: where you will go, what you will do. You talk to people in the military, and you ask them why
did they go into the military? They often talk about the adventure. Part of you knows that a year of national
service can put you on a better path. And part of you knows that America needs
national service to heal a divided nation. You see, America’s torn apart. The data show overwhelmingly: we lack trust in one another
and in key institutions. Young people lack opportunities across
race, gender, income level, and background to come together in common experiences. Even the military, which for prior generations brought
large swaths of the population together in a common mission, now turns away up to 75 percent
of potential recruits due to poor education,
poor behavior, and poor health. We see the effects all around us. Just pick up the papers: Distrust and violence
and fraying of American communities in places like Ferguson and Baltimore
and Dallas and Chicago. Studies show anxiety and unhappiness
among young people is on the rise. And Americans have lost confidence in their ability to tackle
big challenges together. This wasn’t the country I grew up in. I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio,
on Drake Road, literally down the street
from Neil Armstrong, this quiet and humble man
who landed on the moon. And you can barely find
a picture of him doing so, he was so focused on the mission. But he was a constant reminder to all
of us of what Americans could do together when they came together
around an audacious goal. Armstrong set the pace. I was inspired by him and the men
and women of his generation to go into public service,
but I got off track. I found myself in a corporate law firm
in New York and Paris. And I had the audacity to write a letter to a public servant
I didn’t know but I greatly admired. His name was Ted Sorenson. And I said, “Mr. Sorenson,
I find myself reading books on the Constitution
and the Lincoln-Douglas debates, not how to merge companies
or comply with securities regulations. And he wrote me
this beautiful letter back, and at the end it said:
“I hope your interest in public service will continue to burn brightly
and be realized in due time.” With his help, I found my way out
and in unexpected places. From the corporate world
to working for the most junior member of the lower House of Congress
for half the pay. I know, not too bright. From a West Wing office
shaping domestic policy for a president, to a bunker below the White House on 9/11, helping to craft a domestic
response to tragedy. From founding a company
that I thought would work only with vulnerable youth
in American cities to finding myself in villages in Africa. I was literally 41 years old before
I discovered what I was built to do. I wished I had had this transformational
national service experience at 22. We don’t have a moonshot goal today, but I think America needs a big idea
that plays to its strength. And I think that idea is universal
voluntary national service. Imagine, just for a moment,
young people coming of age working with people
who are different from them for a living stipend in tough conditions
solving big challenges. They could tutor and teach students
in low-performing schools. They could conserve rivers
and national parks. Or they could hang up
malaria bed nets in Africa. National service could
transform a generation. Consider the story of my now
dear friend Lashantay Moore. She was homeless, on the streets
of Washington, D.C., from Anacostia, a teenage, unwed mother
who had dropped out of high school. Her life prospects were really dim. But she found, through word of mouth, the Earth Conservation Corps,
this fabulous national service experience that put her to work
cleaning up the Anacostia River. And then on a small team of young people
who brought the nation’s symbol, the bald eagle,
back to the nation’s capitol. When I came here for this talk
this morning driving in with my daughter I saw a bald eagle,
and thought of Lashantay. And I remembered Lashantay saying to me: “Previously society viewed me
as some problem to be solved. And after my experience
through the Earth Conservation Corps, I realized I was potential
to be fulfilled.” Well national service can do that
for a generation. And there are millions of young Americans
like Lashantay who want to be put to work. So I can feel the vibration of skepticism. We have a Republican President,
Republican majorities in Congress, and many of you are asking: “Well, Bridge, how do we bring
this big idea to scale now?” As a Republican who spent 20 years
of my life promoting national service, I know that history is on our side. And given our divisions
and how we’re tearing ourselves apart, this idea is more urgent than ever. And we have a chairman,
General Stanley McChrystle, who stepped up with so many
other wonderful patriotic Americans to lead this important charge. My ancestors fought
in the Battle of Gettysburg in the Wilderness Campaign,
which personalizes for me Republican president
Abraham Lincoln’s words: “It is for us the living to be dedicated
to the unfinished work that they who fought here
have thus far so nobly advanced.” It was two-term president Teddy Roosevelt whose bespectacled face
appears on Mt. Rushmore for his amazing conservation
service legacy who said that: “In the end success or failure will depend
upon how we conduct ourselves in the ordinary affairs of life
and how ordinary citizens respond to those cries that call
for heroic virtues.” When we serve today, we connect ourselves to those who preserved our union
and advanced our freedom. And it was Teddy Roosevelt’s cousin,
Franklin Roosevelt, during the Great Depression
that created the largest experiment in civilian national service
in our history, the Civilian Conservation Corps. You may not know that Richard Nixon
was actually the one that created the Senior Corps,
our largest national service programs, that engage about half a million Americans
every year in their encore careers. It was Ronald Reagan,
this may surprise you, as Governor of California, who created
the California Conservation Corps, under the oddly inspiring motto:
Low pay, tough work, miserable conditions. (Laughter) And all these young people signed up
all over the country. So we know the call to service works. It was President George H.W. Bush
who did the coin toss at the Super Bowl -God love him- and wrote a little note
in that wonderful tradition to President Clinton and said:
“There’s just one initiative across my entire administration
I want you to continue.” Guess what it was? The points of light. It was President George W. Bush
after 9/11 who expanded AmeriCorps, a Clinton era program, by 50 percent,
and it was a tough battle with Congress. Grew Peace Corps, a Kennedy program,
to the highest levels in decades, really in the spirit of that
wonderful Sargent Shriver, and created a disaster preparedness corps in more than 1,000 communities
across the United States. It was conservative Republican
Senator Orrin Hatch, he was the first person
to call me after 9/11 when I was in the White House
from Capitol Hill, to talk about national service. And he shared with me
his Mormon mission that he had performed at a young age in the Great Lakes
and how that informed the rest of his life and his 30-plus years of service
in the U.S. Senate. He was the one who led the floor debate
for the passage of what he then called “The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act” in a wonderful spirit of bipartisan
statesmanship and friendship. Republicans and Democrats alike
have issued the call to service down the ages,
and it has elicited sheer poetry. Kennedy’s “Ask not,”
sounding the trumpet in the inaugural. Johnson’s “To guide the young, comfort the
sick, encourage the downtrodden.” It was Ronald Reagan who went to the
Republican National Convention and said: “The spirit of service flows
like a deep and mighty river through the history of our nation.” It was President Bush 41 who said: “A brilliant diversity spread like stars
like a thousand points of light.” President Clinton who said: “We will restore our commitment
to American community in our time and make affordable the cost
of college for every American.” And George W. Bush after 9/11: “We need citizens not spectators,
building on the gathering momentum of millions of acts of kindness
and goodness and decency.” On 9/11 I found myself in the President’s
emergency operations center below the White House
as terror and fear gripped the nation, and Secretary Norm Mineta grounding
every plane into the United States. But ultimately within hours, the White House operators reported
that thousands of people were calling all across the United States
and the world offering to help. Our emails were lighting up with offers
from friends and strangers to give a hand. In fact, in New York City,
there was such a response of compassion and love
from across the world that they had to hire a trucking operation to haul the excess
of American compassion away because it was interfering
with the response. So ultimately our response
was serving and caring for and loving one another
in this difficult, difficult time. As I look back now on the future,
we see that facts matter. And as we try to bring
“moneyball” to government and make the effective case
for national service we’re in a better position than ever. National studies show
that national service reduces chronic absenteeism
and boosts math and reading scores for students trapped
in low-performing schools. National service is a really effective
response to disaster preparedness. There’s something called the FEMA Corps that mobilizes trained, talented people to respond to disasters
and saves taxpayers $60 million a year. A program was started by the now
Governor of Missouri, Eric Greitens, who was a Navy Seal,
called “The Mission Continues,” and it had this big idea when veterans
come back home, let’s not view them as: “Oh you’ve done your service, that’s it.” Let’s view them as assets
and resources for our country, and so the mission continued and in turn, national service boosted
the educational and employment and even community and family outcomes
of our nation’s veterans. Columbia University tells us
that for every $1 invested, we get a $4 return on investment:
services provided, educational and employment outcomes,
and lower social welfare costs. Longitudinal studies — anybody here
serve in AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps? Oh my god, I love it.
A quarter of the room. AmeriCorps members go on to vote
and volunteer and serve in public service in far greater numbers
than those who don’t. So it has a huge civic effect and when Bob Putnam talks about
“bowling alone,” we can bowl together. AmeriCorps, the federal program
that invests in national service, now awards bonus
points to grant applicants that invest and follow proven practices, increasing that investment
from about 19% in 2015 to 26% last year. And The Corporation for National
and Community Service, which administers AmeriCorps,
was featured in the “Invest in What Works Index Scorecard,”
created by Results for America, which is providing an incentive
across our entire government to have government dollars more rigorously follow
things that actually work. We also know that the evidence
is a powerful way to move the policy agenda
and to continue this important work. Republicans philosophically may want
to cut big government, but they support the little platoons of civil society
that national service represents. And when Alexis de Tocqueville came
to the United States in the 1830s to study America’s prisons, he left
marveling at America’s institutions of civil society, inspiring this fabulous
book called “Democracy in America.” Democrats want to ensure that
government investments are effective, and so they want national service to have
an impact on public problem solving. And both parties have priorities:
rebuilding infrastructure, reintegrating veterans, helping vulnerable
youth in inner cities, that national service
is a powerful solution to. So I want to end with a call to action, and I want it to be
a collective call to action. If you’re the President
or a member of Congress, you can become
the first person in history to bring national service
sustainably to scale. And our goal, within ten years, on the 250th anniversary
of the signing of the Declaration, is to grow national service positions from
65,000 opportunities for young Americans to a million: a million full-time,
service year opportunities every year. If you’re a leader in higher education,
you can create service year fellowships and marry service with learning as Sargent Shriver’s memo
to President Kennedy in February 1961 indicates that he wanted to do. He wanted to run the Peace Corps
through colleges and universities, but the infrastructure
didn’t exist at that time. It does today, and we have more
than 200 colleges and universities that are creating service year fellowships and then awarding course credit,
in many cases, to students who do it. If you’re a business leader, you can make a person’s national
service record relevant to getting a job. So imagine you perform
your year of national service, and that gives you a leg up in employment
because you have grit and persistence and all the qualities, the social and emotional as well as
academic skills and real-world experience, that are relevant in the workforce. If you’re a nonprofit leader, you can create service year positions
and help meet your missions. If you’re a young person, you can
find a service year opportunity that meets your passion
on the Service Year Exchange, run by the Service Year Alliance
at and improve your prospects
in the labor market. And if you’re a young person
who is disconnected from school or work or is formerly in prison, you can do
a service year and change your life. Imagine, for a moment, a country in which a young person
has an opportunity as they come of age to work together with people of different
races, ethnicity, income levels, backgrounds, even political and religious
differences, in common purpose. It would change their view
of other people, their capacity and confidence
in getting big problems addressed, and their love of country. They would learn to believe
in things until they die, to develop ideas powerful enough
to change the world, and to recognize
as the Founders hoped that the pursuit of happiness
was a collective enterprise that we help one another achieve and that my life
is interdependent with your life. Americans are mobilizing across
this country for various reasons, and they’re ready to serve
causes greater than themselves. My dream for America is universal
voluntary national service. Together, I hope we can
make that dream come true and finally become
one nation indivisible. Thank you. (Applause)

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19 Responses

  1. Lathil says:

    first 🙂

  2. agent perry says:


  3. Òscar Pérez Massanet says:



    plz invite amir Khan Bollywood actor

  5. Zenn Exile says:

    The real answer is to dismantle both the republican and democrat parties and allow modern political parties that represent actual people to take up the role of Governance.

    We need representation for skilled workers, farmers, educators, business owners, and every one else in between. There is no reason to force all of these unique and important demographics to fit the established mold. We are in the post internet world. There is no longer a reason to consolidate.

    The 2 party system is false. The left is financial, and the right is infrastructure. That affects everyone, but represents almost no one. A handful of corporate conglomerates are the only voice you can hear on either side of the fence.

    This is the divide in society. Wealthy consolidators view themselves as a different species at war with humanity. Until we break down their kingdoms of delusion, we cannot evolve as a society. And that is the point.

  6. Tyler Beck says:


  7. Youssef Abid says:

    a random comment was 46min ago but 3 others that all say "first" are 30 34 and 29min ago

  8. leocmen says:

    hummm… John "Bridgeland" talking about an unified nation… 🙂 Very appropriate!

  9. sexyloser says:

    Aren't republicans against large government? More national services that are funded by the government doesn't seem like something they'd support.

  10. sefao zekri says:

    america will shatter after it massacred so many ppl. i garantee u. trump is just the beginning?

  11. David says:

    It's great that we all one and all friends over here on this channel!

  12. K M says:

    the concept of more unification through a common goal is important. in this western life style we live, this individualistic idea is not helping our people.

  13. Jason Unwin says:

    Get control of immigration.

    Considering population and war: a critical and neglected aspect of conflict studies
    Bradley A. Thayer*

  14. MadJackal says:

    "For a living stipend" is the part the current government would vomit at the idea of.

  15. jac jac says:

    so, he just sited repubs that was befor the switch, noice

  16. kriztelz Sopena says:

  17. Jim Mason says:

    Thank you for showing us how service to others actually serves us too… by helping us be more mindful of our shared futures and appreciative of our differences. JM

  18. None None says:

    oh o get it. another attempt to equate the right to the achievements of the left. smh…and on TED

  19. Eduardo says:

    This guy is really smart, and really progressive, and really hopeful, and has benevolent intentions. So, you know what that means……

    Nobody cares what he's saying. What did Kylee Jenner tweet today. Smh

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