‘A new era of responsibility’

Obama’s call to service begins his presidency on the right note

The morning before the day on which he was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama was standing in a Washington, D.C., shelter for homeless teenagers, rolling blue paint onto a dorm wall. He was there, on the holiday celebrating the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to make a pitch for community service. “Given the crisis that we’re in and the hardships that so many people are going through,” he said, “we can’t allow any idle hands.”

With the King holiday on Monday and the inauguration of America’s first African-American president on Tuesday, America experienced a kind of harmonic convergence—of history and hope, of past and present, of remembrance of the Civil Rights Movement and the most remarkable event to result from it. It’s fitting that the president-elect used the opportunity to call for the King holiday to become, in effect, a national day of service.

“To honor the legacy of a man who lived his life as a servant to others,” he said, “I will ask all Americans to renew their commitment to serving their communities and their country.”

But he’s gone further. Together with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Obama team has launched the Renew America Together initiative, which through its Web site (www.usaservice.org) links people with thousands of volunteer opportunities in their own communities and across the nation.

Locally, the Sierra Club, in conjunction with such groups as Habitat for Humanity and Friends of Bidwell Park, scheduled a half-dozen activities, from cleaning up a bike path to planting a garden at the Chico Creek Nature Center. Almost all drew the maximum number of volunteers.

Of course, Obama wants the spirit of volunteerism to extend throughout the year. He understands that volunteers are the backbones of their communities. “Everywhere we look, there is work to be done,” he proclaimed in his inaugural address. Already he had set an example.

What a wonderful way to begin a presidency.