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My PBS station rebroadcast American Experience Civilian Conservation Corps tonight. I cried. Again.

Is it possible that we could be even more in need of such an institution now than we were when drought and dust ravaged the land? Along the Gulf Coast we can only watch in helpless, impotent rage as another manmade environmental disaster destroys habitat, wildlife, livelihoods, and lives. On par with, perhaps exceeding, the devastation of the "Dirty Thirties."

From the program transcript:

Jonathan Alter, Writer: When Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933, it was almost a perfect match of man and moment. He was somebody who could inspire people and used the crisis to redefine what we owe each other as a people. That’s one of the reasons why the New Deal really was a "New Deal" between the public and the government.


For those of us who voted for Obama we hoped he could be another FDR. But he faces the same forces that Roosevelt did only now they are more entrenched.

Huey Long, Senator (archival): The national debt today is $30 billions as compared to $19 billions under Hoover. And God knows Hoover was bad enough.

Watching the program again and listening to the comments of the men, I could only think that they must have worshiped FDR.

Clifford Hammond, Joined the CCC in 1934: The Civilian Conservation Corps had the army style. You know, you had Reveille and sort of roll call. And then we’d go back to the barracks, had to keep your bunk all made up nice and everything clean. In a little bit, breakfast would be ready.

Vincente Ximenes, Joined the CCC in 1938: Good breakfasts, with eggs and bacon and sausage, and they had pancakes and waffles, you know, juice of all kinds. Plenty of everything. You could eat all you want. Then, by 7:30, I was on a truck on the way to the site where we were gonna work.

Houston Pritchett, Joined the CCC in 1939: You get out there in that hot sun, it’s 100 degrees, and you’re working all day. And you sweatin’. And you worked right up to lunchtime. Then they bring you food out to the field. Now, that was quite a thing, too. We wasn’t used to nothing like this.

Vincente Ximenes, Joined the CCC in 1938: Food that you wouldn’t believe, good food, sandwiches, I mean, with a lot of meat and plenty of— plenty of everything. Apples, bananas, I mean, you were waiting for that food. Then you’d be back to work.

Harley Jolley, Joined the CCC in 1937: We were hardworking boys. By four o’clock you’re back to the barracks, and you have a little time for recreation. Six o’clock it’s chow time. And we were always ready to eat more. I firmed up. I became much sounder in body, built good legs, that territory as well. And I wound up a fairly good, healthy young teenager.

Clifford Hammond, Joined the CCC in 1934: Fed you good, yep. I come out of there weighing 174 pounds, and the most I ever weighed in my life. [laughs]

Our society is different now than it was in the '30s. Maybe some aspects of the program wouldn't work as well as they did then. But just as in the Depression we have too many people who are unemployed and homeless. A recent diary told about the need for food in a tent city.

I got quite frustrated during the debate over the stimulus when opponents would say that government jobs didn't contribute to the economy. Yes. They. DO!

Harley Jolley, Joined the CCC in 1937: Each man would send home twenty-five dollars each month and keep five for myself. Now the dollar had enormous precious impact in the 1930s. So twenty-five dollars sent home, multiplied across the nation by thousands, that’s a lot of economic improvement nationwide.

And then not only were the boys there employed, remember they had support people — foremen, superintendents, engineers, all this. So here are skilled people employed as well. Then supplying the camp food, all the things it takes to run a camp for a week, that went to the local economy also. So it was a major impact on all the economies wherever the camps went. And they went everywhere.

And the CCC and WPA projects still contribute to the economy 70-some years later. How many of our states could have the same recreation and tourism industries without the foundation of the CCC projects? I will venture to guess none. The Gulf Coast has/had a vibrant tourism economy. How much of that will remain when/if the oil stops spewing? The area will need major remediation. The people whose livelihoods have been stolen will need work. A CCC type program will provide both.

Many of us have/had family members who were in the CCC. My dad supported his parents and four younger siblings on the farm through his term in the CCC.

When this topic has come up before, others have shared similar stories. Dad's camp was Camp Narrows in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Much of the recreational infrastructure in the Hills dates back to the CCC. Dad's unit built the Needles Highway that threads through the Hills to Mount Rushmore. It only had three faces when Dad was there. When he wasn't working, he played baseball, he learned leathercraft and ham radio, and he went on field trips such as when the National Geographic Society launched one of its stratospheric balloons.

His time in the CCC informed his thinking about the environment for the rest of his life and in turn mine.

At this juncture in time, with the costs of our environmental policy so shockingly playing out, we need another CCC. We need the jobs for people. We need the work to be done. But most of all, we need the ethos of environmental conservation. I have no data to support it but I'm willing to bet that men who were in the CCC came out with more environmental conscience than those who weren't. They saw first hand what people had done to the land. They worked to fix it and they lived to see the longterm benefit of their work.

Jonathan Alter, Writer: The CCC  not only was a major foundation of our ethic of national service in this country, but also an ethic of conservation. After generations of Americans essentially raping the land for whatever it was worth economically, as happens in so many other parts of the world, suddenly there’s a break in that in the ’30s. And you have a pretty large chunk of a generation, three million people, who have some experience in conserving the land instead of exploiting the land, who care about what we leave behind.

Houston Pritchett, Joined the CCC in 1939: Recently, we went back to find the camp we was in. I went back up there and seen them trees, where they got them where you can’t cut them down. And my little granddaughter, she was telling them, "All these trees," she said her grandpa planted all the trees up there. [laughs]

Jonathan Alter, Writer: Who were the people who pioneered the environmental movement in this country and who now are helping us to transition to more of a green ethic? Many of their parents and grandparents were in the CCC. An ethic of conservation is then born and developed and nurtured and built, because it’s all a generational conversation that takes place, that one thing builds on another, builds on another.

We need this. We need this NOW!

Originally posted to draghnfly on Mon May 31, 2010 at 09:10 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  We May Need It, But We Don't Have Leadership (4+ / 0-)

    that agrees.

    A lot of stuff that's needed doesn't happen.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon May 31, 2010 at 09:12:28 PM PDT

  •  add the eKos tag (7+ / 0-)

    There is federal legislation being considered that might very well have a CCC component and a Kossack, one RL_Miller, is the biggest proponent of it.

     Add the eKos tag so this gets picked up and she notices it.

    "Not dead ... yet. Still have ... things to do." -Liet Kynes

    by Stranded Wind on Mon May 31, 2010 at 09:19:08 PM PDT

  •  In 1934 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mariachi mama, thethinveil

    We were primarily a manual work force.  Public works were built by shovel and pick.  Workplace safety regulations were essentially non-existent.

    In 2010, we don't treat people as beasts of burden.

    What kind of work would a modern CCC do?

    "Well, I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation..."--David St. Hubbins

    by Old Left Good Left on Mon May 31, 2010 at 10:07:22 PM PDT

    •  The same stuff (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      0hio, Chinton, JesseCW, asterkitty, thethinveil

      Shovels still work.

      •  Read my comment (0+ / 0-)

        "In 2010 we don't treat people as beasts of burden."

        Society has moved forward since 1934.   Although pick and shovel work is used in remote areas (wilderness fire-fighting, for example), it would be otherwise inappropriate.

        "Well, I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation..."--David St. Hubbins

        by Old Left Good Left on Mon May 31, 2010 at 10:27:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Did you think people were talking about the (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:


          Tractors did exist then, you know.  And Dozers, and back hoes, and chain saws, and jack hammers.

          There's a shit load of manual labor, and semi-skill labor, to be done nonetheless.  It really hasn't changed all that much.

          Alot of junkies would be headed for rehab if they blew a vein this badly. Apparently, oil is better than smack.

          by JesseCW on Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 01:28:08 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I did read your comment (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          West Michigan Dem

          Not everyone works in an office. There is plenty of manual labor out there that could be done that is typically the first thing local and state governments cut, from trimming weeds out of sidewalks to maintaining parks to picking up trash.

    •  You should familiarize yourself (3+ / 0-)

      with blue collar reality.

      Right across the wrong side of the tracks, wherever you may live, you can buy a couple of beers and talk to a few working people, and learn how very, very wrong you are.

      Alot of junkies would be headed for rehab if they blew a vein this badly. Apparently, oil is better than smack.

      by JesseCW on Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 01:24:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Blue collar (0+ / 0-)

        is machine assisted factory work.

        Even basic landscaping work uses equipment, not armies of men and women.

        Simple fact is that we cannot mobilize millions of workers by simply giving them shovels and telling them to go do something--unless you're simply advocating make-work jobs.

        The onus is on the proponents of a modern-day CCC to state exactly what kinds of projects would be accomplished.

        Oh, and I did my share of stoop labor in fields growing up.  I don't consider it character-building, and the progressive solution has been to not treat people as animals or machines.  So take your condescension and shove it.

        "Well, I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation..."--David St. Hubbins

        by Old Left Good Left on Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 06:57:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There's enough for a huge number of jobs. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Calamity Jean

          For instance, we need a LOT of new sidewalks.  That's machine-assisted, but it still requires an immense amount of manual labor (there's no "sidewalk laying machine" the way there are railroad track laying machines).

          -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

          by neroden on Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 08:13:45 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Actually, workplace safety regs went in under FDR (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Calamity Jean

      Yes, things were still very labor-intensive, but the CCC was nothing like the 19th century mills of death.

      -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

      by neroden on Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 08:12:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Any politician that says we can not create jobs (5+ / 0-)

    is a profound liar and/or terribly ignorant. Regardless whether he is the former or the latter or both, he doesn't belong in any elected position.

    Return to the arguments during the debate over raising the minimum wage and be aware that every study ever done on that subject broadcast the opinion that such activity worked without fail.

    The simple common sense reason was always given that the poor spent the money and it created even more work.

    Any man/woman in America that wants to work should always have that right. Every job should include a living wage.

    As to China lending us the necessary money to provide necessary work, I ask this question: How much did China loan the Govt when we bailed out the banks?

    If memory serves, our country issues its own currency. The excuse that we need China or any other country is pure bullshit, a bit of misinformation to excite the average person that has little comfort with his/her own reason.

    Is China's money used as the world's currency? It seems that the all American dollar performs that task. Print more and spend it while we yet can.

    NOP - pronounced nope. The NOP party. The NO Party = NOP. BTW, Boner from Ohio still sucks.

    by 0hio on Mon May 31, 2010 at 10:27:49 PM PDT

  •  I saw this tonight (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greengemini, asterkitty

    It was wonderful.

  •  YES! (3+ / 0-)

    This has been on my mind too.

    So much so in fact that I had planned to try and make this case in my diary appearing later today (much later, but still). Instead I might cull a few words and add a link to this diary since you did such a fine job.

    I'll be hosting Hike On! for RLMiller this week. Tune in to see some of the benefits of such efforts therein around 9PM pacific (22 hours from now), if not sooner.


    The best way to save the planet is to keep laughing!

    by LaughingPlanet on Mon May 31, 2010 at 11:55:35 PM PDT

  •  There are a few things missing that were (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    critical. The military set up, managed the logistics (meals, building their own housing) and essentially ran the camps. The military supplied the doctors, dentists and vaccinations to many who had never had one.

    And they were military style with revile, inspections, extensive calisthenics, classes for those were illiterate to those who hadn't yet graduated high school. Strict working hours and physical exercise punishment for those who

    We don't have a military capable of doing that now. They are too busy, of course, but also they have contracted out all the basic functions like cooking, building showers, latrines, bunk houses and so on. The structure isn't there and we have no way to create one.

    They solved the problem of labor being upset because of the $1/day pay by putting a labor chief at the top. We don't have that opportunity now, and labor, working people have been pushed so far that they won't stand for some people  to have to take work and just get the equivalent (of $30/month) pay without the benefits that labor fought for and got over the years.

    I wish we had some way to do it though; it would be so good in so many ways. It would give a lot of young people the discipline to organize their own lives. Do you realize they planted 2.4 Billion trees? Think of that!

    The biggest dream killer?
    Michelle Bachman

    PS, I have watched it three times at least. PBS has been running a bunch of documentaries about the 30s. Catch some of the others if you can. One is about the photographers that captured all those images that capture our attention still. I think its called Faces of America.

    Obama is a Black man. If he said some of the things Roosevelt said we would have lynching parties all around.

    "You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it." - Rabbi Tarfon

    by samddobermann on Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 03:59:10 AM PDT

  •  Thank you for your comments (4+ / 0-)

    I guess I didn't make it all that clear (writing on the rush), but I don't advocate a faithful revival of the CCC. Of course that wouldn't work. You've mentioned many of the reasons.

    What I'm suggesting is a public works conservation program like the CCC that would work on the unique conservation problems of our time. A program that could clean the Gulf Coast, rebuild New Orleans, etc. A program that would as its primary goal be about conservation and environmental awareness and work for people who need it.

    Conservation projects might require heavy equipment but just like when you work in your yard, a lot of it is hands on. The marshes and wetlands won't get cleaned with bulldozers and tractors. Birds won't be washed in machines. These areas won't be planted and restored with mega equipment.

    Many members of the original CCC were farm boys who already had a basic skill set for the work but many were not. I believe the program originally targeted city boys but was not as successful in recruiting them.

    The CCC addressed the needs of the time. We need a similar, not identical, program to address our needs.

    •  A critical part is discipline, consistency. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      neroden, Calamity Jean, asterkitty

      We have Job Corp, and Americorp (which may be the same) but they are not 24/7 which is what made CCC a success. They did get city kids; lots of them. The Black man featured was from Detroit, went back there and worked in the auto industry. Remember that about 50% of the people in the 30s were agricultural workers/farmers. They were hardest hit because of the drought and then because few could buy food. There were about 250,000 kids riding the rails before this started and a good many of them went into the CCC.

      One program funded by the stimulus was to hire young people to "weatherize" the homes of very low income people. The funds were for training as well as the work. I don't know about many of the programs but there was a terrific story of the program on some news program — or maybe NOW.  I recall seeing and hearing some kids which told about what they were doing and  showed what was done and heard some elderly home owners who were so happy. They said they were unemployed and had about given up but now they had all this training. They felt really good about all the thanks they were getting as much as the pay.

      I think that program is really making a difference both in their lives, the home owners eyes — their health and their pocketbooks. Maine is now planning to weatherize every single home in the state by 2020.

      I don't know how well this is working in other states and on Tribal lands; the tribes got separate allotments. It seems that Obama was listening because I am quite sure that those Indian chiefs with whom he met multiple times must have told him that every time money was allotted to a state for some purpose it always seem to run out before any of the tribes being served. I saw that myself; in fact helped prove that in Federal court.

      There were funds for maybe 20,000 homes. They should be getting done by fall!

      So that is an attempt to emulate the CCC concept of giving skills as well as work to young unemployed people.

      We have all sorts of laws today that make the CCC type program impossible. Furthermore, the anti forces have had years to work on people to be absolutely furious with government and a Republican party captured by the Tea Party interests to be the semi organized front lines against the "socialist threat." It's funny but there really was a socialist threat in the 30's.

      On another program about the homeless kids who were riding the rails in those days, several who did go into the CCC became active Union organizers. Try to catch that program. PBS seems to be featuring the 30s series of programs on American Experience series at this time.

      Think of what a big program like the CCC would mean for the cities, their schools, their neighborhoods.  Then think of how to get it passed.  I do wish that idiot Arnie Duncan would think of using education funds which he has pushed at charter schools (and helping to break the strongest unions in the land) and spend some of that at 24/6 schools that would  require some physical labor as well as education. Did you catch the program on the Bordentown School which existed in New Jersey during the 20s to the 50s?  It had been modeled on the Tuskeegee Institute and then some what secretly morphed into a real high quality college prep school while maintaining the accepted Domestic and trade training school that was acceptable to Northern White Power structure. It was partly funded as a public school but also earned a good part of the costs by farming and making their own things.

      I wish more would follow some of these truly wonderful programs on PBS. So much of our history is being explored there — as well as current events and foreign places in depth. Independent Lens is one series that presents programs by independent film makers one a surprising wide range of topics and places.

      So, how do we get there from here?
      And how do we reach the poorest of the poor?

      "You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it." - Rabbi Tarfon

      by samddobermann on Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 11:45:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oops. Hit post too quickly. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    neroden, Calamity Jean, asterkitty

    I just want to add that I believe one of the major benefits of the CCC was the environmental and conservation ethos that it instilled in its members.

  •  You've Been Rescued (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    West Michigan Dem

    "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them"

    by ItsJessMe on Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 08:25:33 PM PDT

  •  I could not agree more. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Calamity Jean

    My father graduated from high school in 1930.  He was part of the CCC and worked on a number of roads in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  When I was a kid and we drove to our grandparents' home, Dad would proudly tell us that he had helped build that road!  I remember thinking what a big deal that was.  So many unemployed young men and women could help on so many projects today and gain a sense of pride and accomplishment, just as my father did in the 1930's.

    We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough? --Wendell Berry

    by deeproots on Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 08:43:53 PM PDT

  •  Excellent diary. Thank you. n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Calamity Jean

    It's raining, it's pouring, The BP guys were snoring, Gas bumped their well and it went to hell, And then blew off its mooring...

    by SciMathGuy on Wed Jun 02, 2010 at 03:31:54 AM PDT

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