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A look back at our nation’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s shows the CCC met many needs like those we have today. The CCC model might help again, with a bit of work.
CCC ideas could have value today, except for our biggest problem. Today’s habit is to ax ideas with ideology.
The trick is so easy that the ideology of either party can stop any idea the wrong guys raise.
Strange to tell, the other party’s ideology stops the same idea just as easily. So either party making a proposal dooms it.
The history of the CCC confirms a proud legacy and scripts the catchwords that kill the thought. A queer hello.
A bill from President Franklin Roosevelt reached Congress on March 21, 1933, and a CCC act was passed 10 days later by voice vote. Those voices struck a deal worth trying.
The CCC ended in 1942, when the young men went off to war.
As the name says, the men worked on conservation projects, such as building erosion controls, roads, trails and structures on public lands; fighting wildfires and planting trees. Admire the CCC workmanship in the stone buildings, carpentry and tinware at Bandelier and similar work in parks from Yosemite to Acadia.
What the CCC achieved and the need for more of it remain with us today.
Enrollees were jobless unmarried men, 18-24 years old, from relief families. Up to three million signed up.
A quarter million blacks had groups of their own, as did World War I veterans and Native Americans. Ninety percent had not finished high school.
Similar groups lack jobs today. CCC camps were operated by the army, but were not military.
Work was hard and was 40 hours plus per week. Pay was $30 a month, of which $25 was sent directly home. Benefits included free food, housing, clothing, medical care and work training.
A supply of trained leaders from CCC camps was a bonus to the nation and the war effort.
The aims and outcomes of the CCC are told in compelling terms: “Its purpose was two-fold – conservation of our natural resources and the salvage of our young men.” Similar needs exist today.
The CCC lifted the nation when times were hard. Yet we cannot rework it, lest the perverse party gain polling points.
Say a notable Democrat were to propose a CCC model. What would notable Republicans say?
One that all can guess is, “Business must have the lead in it, for ample government fees.” The next easy guess is, “It takes money from the job creators and gives it to the jobless.”
We expect the familiar blackballs. “The jobless won’t sign up if it means hard work.” “The Democrats’ game is creeping socialism.” “The worst use of tax money is for hiking trails and planting little trees.”
Now switch party hats on the CCC proposal.
Say a notable Republican were to suggest a modern CCC with a role for companies. Guess what notable Democrats would say?
An easy guess is, “Republicans are water boys for rich corporations.”
We expect the familiar blackballs. “It’s a greedy assault on minimum wage.” “The Republicans’ game is brewing militarism.” “A shabby scheme to cripple unions.” (Unions opposed FDR’s CCC bill.)
Both sets of automatic rejections are prepackaged for broadcasting daily.
One of the sets would end a CCC idea if the dreadful party raised it.
Working out the trouble spots would not happen. The party ideologies would be loud and adamant.
In 1936, a Gallup poll asked, “Are you in favor of the CCC camps?”
A huge majority, 82 percent of respondents, said yes, including 92 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans.
The CCC was a popular action that aided the country and its youth. Any such thought now would be axed the day either party liked it.
America needs more ideas and less of the stifling role the parties play.
New Mexico Citizens
for Clean Air & Water