A few days ago in the afternoon I was stumbled upon PBS and saw the marvelous documentary "The Civilian Conservation Corps" (CCC) about this jobs program started by FDR in 1933 that had 3 million men and lasted until 1940. In the begining of the film FDR asks his radio audience, "Give me your help in this crusade to restore American to its people." The show was riveting, and can be watched online through the link below
For the new year 2010 and the new decade I think the CCC documentary has the best old/new ideas. In the beginning of the documentary old guys who were in the CCC say they grew up poor on farms and saw the Dust Bowl storms that destroyed farms. For a century and a half American farmers and forest companies had cut down trees; American farmers didn't know anything about fertilization or crop rotation so they had eroded the soil and created huge damage to the land. Then like now in the U.S. we had huge problems with environment; in the early 1930s besides dust storms there were also forest fires, floods, drought, and deforestation--an environmental disaster.
Also with the GReat Depression millions had no jobs and were hungry. FDR knew that young men 18-25 were thrown out of their families and roaming the country looking for food and jobs. There were hunger marches across the country and two national hunger marches to Washington DC. Within months of his inaguration FDR had gotten Congress to pass legislation to set up the Civilian Conservation Corps and then authorized Frances Perkins, his Secretary of Labor, to set up a CCC, a jobs program for young men.
(Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)
The flim intercuts interviews with CCC veterans along with video footage of the camps. The CCC young men were put to work planting trees and built the first fire roads on government lands. The fought forest fires. They worked in 100 trades including carpenty, mechanics, road and dam building. At night 6-10 they attended classes many learning to read and write as well as a trade. They learned automobile mechanics, horticulture, cooking, baking, photography, radio work, and many other trades. The program gave work to cooks, administrators, and engineers.
The men in the CCC planted over 2 billion trees and stopped soil erosion helping repair the immense environmental damage in the country and the country's enviroment was improved by 1941. They built roads and lodges in national parks, leaving as a legacy recreation facilities that Americans enjoyed for the next 70 years. They built the first ski trails starting the ski industry. In 1997 I visited Death Valley and met CCCers--now 86-87--and their wives back for a 60-year reunion to see the roads and lodges they built in Death Valley National Park. My friend Donna Cashell's father worked in the CCC and was proud of his work. The young men who had been beaten down got renewed faith in themselves seeing the productive work they had done.
The young men who had been hungry started eating regular meals. They got their first medical and dental exams. They lived in army-like barracks, worked 8 hours/day for $30/month, sent $25/month to their families. They had recreation such as swimming after work. The program wasn't perfect For a short while they had a few women CCC units but quickly disbanded them. At first white and black young men were in the same CCC units but segregationists in the South made a stink so FDR set up segregated units.
African-American radio class in the Civilian Conservation Corps, National Archives and Records
The Obama administration could quickly revive this marvelous program, helping to give employment to those who most need it and helping the country deal with global warming. We could set up new CCC to help do work to stop global warming. Imagine if again we had 3 million young men and women planting trees, putting in solar panels, installing wind mills in north Texas/Oklahoma to generate electricity, helping to install new electricity lines to bring this windmill-generated electricity to the rest of the nation . This new CCC would be integrated and would include women, of course.
We need instead of a large army a large Civilian Conservation Corps three million strong working to fight global warming and to get the unemployed working again, particularly the youth. For 2010 we need to end the useless Afghan and Iraq Wars that were built and mainted on lies and corruption and bring the troops home. FDR's New Deal sprung from the marches and demonstrations of the hungry and jobless in the early years of the Depression. We need to get active each one of us as citizens. We need to speak out and to organize to get this new CCC legislation introduced and passed through Congress. We need an art and literature that focues on our country and its people like the art and literature of the 1930s.
Causes Julia Stein Supports
Doctors Without Borders