May 16, 2003 - The Nation: Protest at the Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: May 16, 2003 - The Nation: Protest at the Peace Corps
By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, June 09, 2003 - 6:49 pm: Edit Post

Protest at the Peace Corps

Read and comment on a story that concerns first amendment rights by Volunteers serving in the Peace Corps. The story is about a group of sixty Peace Corps volunteers in the Dominican Republic who had planned a peace demonstration at the US Embassy against US policy in Iraq in March. Three days before the demonstration was scheduled, Peace Corps officials sent an e-mail to all volunteers warning that the protest would "cause tarnish and embarrassment to the Peace Corps" and that anyone taking part could face administrative separation. Fearful of being sent home, the vast majority who had planned to protest dropped out, and in the end, only three protesters showed up. Peace Corps investigated the case but found no grounds for discipline, which made co-organizer Andy Kauffman bitter that the larger march was suppressed. "We were basically silenced," says Kauffman.

Should volunteers retain the same first amendment rights while serving overseas as they do as citizens living in the United States? Is it all right for Peace Corps Volunteers to protest US foreign policy if they do not identify themselves as volunteers? Should the Peace Corps spell out rights and responsibilities of new volunteers and have them sign a contract in which each volunteer acknowledges the conditions under which political expression can be made while serving as a volunteer? Read the stories, make up your mind, and leave your comments at:

Pre-empting Protest*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Pre-empting Protest

by Sasha Polakow-Suransky

Ever since writer Paul Theroux got booted from the Peace Corps in 1965 for inadvertently conspiring to topple Malawian president Hastings Banda, the issue of political expression has been a sensitive one for Peace Corps headquarters in Washington. And today, as American soldiers pledge to bring democracy to Iraq, our "Ambassadors of Peace" face threats of expulsion for exercising their freedom of speech.

Earlier this year, a group of Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) in the Dominican Republic planned a peace demonstration to be held at the US Embassy in Santo Domingo on March 31. Co-organizer Aaron Drendel thought it was essential to "show Dominicans that there are Americans who don't agree with the policies of our government right now." Sixty to seventy volunteers agreed to join the demonstration. According to Drendel, local Peace Corps officials did not object initially, so long as the protest wasn't held in the Peace Corps's name. But three days before the march was scheduled, after consulting with Washington headquarters, local Peace Corps officials sent an e-mail to all volunteers warning that the protest would "cause tarnish and embarrassment to the Peace Corps" and that anyone taking part could face administrative separation, the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge. Fearful of being sent home, the vast majority who had planned to protest dropped out, including Drendel. In the end, only three protesters showed up, among them co-organizer Aaron Kauffman. Washington investigated Kauffman's case but ultimately found no grounds for discipline, which makes him all the more bitter that the larger march was suppressed. "We were basically silenced," says Kauffman.

Though the Peace Corps is independent from the State Department, its upper echelons come and go with Washington's prevailing political winds, and volunteers who protest Administration policy have never been well received. (The President appoints the Peace Corps director and deputy director, and the appointments must be confirmed by the Senate.)

At the same time, the Peace Corps takes great pride in its political autonomy abroad. PCVs are not required to promote US foreign policy objectives and are barred from getting involved in the domestic politics of their host country, lest they sully the agency's reputation of independence. As former Secretary of State Dean Rusk once insisted, "To make the Peace Corps an instrument of foreign policy would be to rob it of its contribution to foreign policy." Yet the rules are far less clear when it comes to expressing opposition to US government actions. As outlined in a training manual distributed to all volunteers, PCVs must make clear that any political views expressed are their own, but they are also free to "petition the US government," as many had planned to do by marching to the US Embassy in Santo Domingo on March 31.

The issue of free speech in the Peace Corps first went to court in 1969. Bruce Murray, a PCV in Chile, was expelled from the program after writing letters to the New York Times and a Chilean newspaper criticizing the Vietnam War and Peace Corps efforts to suppress an antiwar petition. Once home, he instantly became eligible for the draft. Murray sued and won. The court found that the Peace Corps had violated his First Amendment rights. In 1983, PCV Dean Wood staged a spontaneous solitary protest in front of the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic upon learning that President Reagan had invaded Grenada. But Wood forgot to change out of his Peace Corps T-shirt and was terminated. In 1987 a federal judge upheld the decision, ruling that volunteers' speech is generally protected, but that Dominican newspaper photos of Wood protesting in a Peace Corps shirt damaged the credibility of the agency.

If anything, the expression of antigovernment views among PCVs would seem to bolster the Peace Corps's much-touted image of independence. To many returned volunteers, presenting a diverse array of political views is vital to teaching locals about American values and ideals. "They're asking for trouble if they silence volunteers," says former PCV and veteran TV journalist Kevin Delany. "It's far better to say this is in the spirit of our values." Sam Brown, former director of the ACTION agency, which oversaw the Peace Corps during the Carter Administration, insists that "in large parts of the world right now, not expressing your opinion [and] being seen as a blind instrument of foreign policy puts you in more direct danger." But Peace Corps spokeswoman Barbara Daly is adamant that such forays into political speech are potentially dangerous for the agency and its volunteers. "We need to protect the image of the Peace Corps," she says. "For or against, we stay out of politics."

Meanwhile, the Peace Corps is feeling the fallout from Bush Administration policies. On April 3 the agency withdrew all volunteers from Morocco in the wake of widespread antiwar protests and rising anti-Americanism. It is precisely at times like these that many current and former PCVs feel that it's essential to show foreigners that Americans are not politically monolithic. After the Dominican protest was "crushed," Drendel wrote to fellow PCVs: "As humanitarian volunteers we believed that we were in a respected position and could bring some positive light to Americans in a time when more than ever Americans are being labeled in a negative neo-imperialistic light."

After all, one of the Peace Corps's primary goals is "to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served." But these days volunteers are feeling increasingly muzzled. "It's sad that as volunteers we don't have a voice," protester Kauffman laments. "The Administration...gets to choose how we're depicted to the general public."

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By Bob Utne on Monday, June 09, 2003 - 9:52 pm: Edit Post

Peacefully protesting against the foreign (or other) policies of the current Administration by Federal employees (and volunteers) has been an American right for many generations.

I was in Gabon 1 (1962-1964) and after completing college (1966) was a Management Intern in the Executive Office of the President (along with Paul Wolfowitz and ten others). We all had top secret clearances. That didn't stop me from being a vocal critic against the Vietnam war including joining protest marches on the weekends. No one at work told me I couldn't protest but there is a line that wasn't to be crossed. I couldn't protest under the banner of an employee working for Johnson. That line seems to make a good deal of sense.

By Susan Schatzer on Monday, June 09, 2003 - 10:47 pm: Edit Post

As an RPCV (Thailand 73-77)I have seen governments both foreign and national come and go, but the overall "non-political" stance of the Peace Corps has remained the same for volunteers.
Volunteers are guests in a host country and as such should remain apolitical in their actions. First amendment rights are not guaranteed out of the United States. Volunteers are not official diplomats or operatives and as such do not retain special privileges
Each person is certainly entitled to their own opinion however expressing it in ways that might interfere with the trends of the host government could present problems. I think the opinions are better kept to oneself or expressed amongst those who are culturally familiar with protest and first amendment rights. (in other words amongst yourselves since words and ideas can easily be misconstrued by others)

By sdennis on Monday, June 09, 2003 - 10:50 pm: Edit Post

I do not have a problem with Peace Corps Volunteers demonistrating but I have a problem when they organize a protest on foreign soil which also involves foreign nationals. Most of my views have changed from when I was 20 to 30 year old. The Vietnam War protesters in the 60s and 70s take a lot of pride in the fact that they protested. Some crossed the line and blamed the solders for the War. This did considerable damage to a large number of veterans. Think carefully what you are going to protest. You might get what you wish for.

I served in Panama from 1964 to 1966.

By John Johnson on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 2:05 am: Edit Post

This is a different subject however it needs to be addresses. I wish to not give my name as I am currently serving a second term as a PCV. The country I am serving in I dont want to say however the subject of the matter is two fold.
1. As of today June 10 2003 the PCVs in my country have only received half of their living allowance siting difficulties by HQ (in country) of some sort of mix up. Funny we did receive half of our JULY allowance however the JUNE allowance is not available? How can this be?
2nd The Leave Allowance has been changed to the local currency. In this country it is against the law of the country to exchange the countries currency into dollars. So what this means is that instead of having the OPTION of receiving our Leave Allowance in dollars it is included with our Living Allowance in the countries currency. For those of us who wish to travel outside of the country this becomes a problem in exchanging the currency. And most of all refering back to the first where is the Leave Allowance while we wait and wait for our Living Allowance?

Many of us have to pay rent and our rent is now past due. How does this look to the locals when the PCVs have no money to pay rent?

Is this PC Country wide or just here? Again I will not say my name or country of service however can someone start asking some questions for all PCVs? Can someone do a check and find out why our Leave Allowance are not dollars anymore and can they find out why we are not being paid? Then post it on your site for us to review? Thank you. PCV 2nd time around and proud of it?

By Jason Forauer on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 2:12 am: Edit Post

I can understand the temptation and desire some PCVs in the field might feel to take political action. However, they work for the U.S. Government. Peace Corps has guidelines regarding political involvement while serving overseas to protect volunteers as well as the interests of the U.S. government.

In regards to Bob's point, when PCVs are serving overseas they are PCVs 24/7. If they would like to protest in foreign countries let them do so as private citizens. Whatever you might think of Peace Corps and the status of 'volunteer' a PCV still works for the U.S. government which has a particular set of beliefs, interests and rules that should be followed by those who choose to volunteer.

PCVs taking political action is a big deal. You are not just speaking for yourself and your personal beliefs, but for the U.S. Government.

By Former D.R. PCV 99-01 on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 2:13 am: Edit Post

Way to go Aaron! Much support to your free speech decision.

By Maria S.Blanco on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 8:54 am: Edit Post

Biodiversity also applies to politics,cultures
religions,etc but when on a voluntary basis, you
join an organization knowing well, as you should,
the policies established to fulfill your duties
stick to that which you pledged in the Oath Ceremony. It is easy to be trapped by the tempta-
tion to disobey rules when worthwhile ideas or in-
terpretation of democratic beliefs are challenged,
yet,this initiative requires confering with our APCDs at the Peace Corp Office of the country we
serve.Please remember our oath when in doubt.Thank you.Coco' RPCV-Panama, Class 32

By Jane Siebert on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 9:00 am: Edit Post

It appears that no one said volunteers could not speak out against the war privately, but rather that they were not to organize a public protest against the war. I see these as two different options. Speaking out against the war personally shows the diversity of opinions in the U.S. and that we do not all agree with the current administration's decisions. As a former volunteer I remember how much weight my lone voice carried as an American. A protest, whether the protesters are identified as volunteers, or not, would speak for the Peace Corps organization, and should not be allowed.

By Patrick Pinkson-Burke on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 9:19 am: Edit Post

I am a former volunter (Afghanistan 1973-76). I have worked for non-profits my entire life and the one thing they all had in common was the right for workers to speak out on their own beliefs. If I wish to protest the world situation or the politics of Washington, I am free to do so as long I do it as Patrick and not as non-profit X. While volunteers have to be sensative to their host cultures, that should not mean giving up all their rights as Citizens of the US--However it must be clear they are speaking as individual citizens of the US and not as representatives of the Peace Corps or the US Gov't.

By Michi on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 9:34 am: Edit Post

I think it's LAME to say that the PCVs can't protest. As long as they're not protesting as PCVs but as American citizens (a minor but important distinction), then go for it. Repressing some of the basic rights of American citizenship just because someone is a Peace Corps Volunteer flies in the face of the tenets of the Peace Corps--to share American values with folks of the host country (and vice-versa).

Saying your a PCV 24/7 is unfair: Does that mean that you cannot ever speak out against policies that you disagree with because you are ALWAYS wearing the mantle of "Peace Corps Volunteer" and ALWAYS "work" for the government? And does that imply that NO ONE that works for the government has the right to speak out against it?

The right to speak out against my own government was a right that I was very proud of and spoke of often to my Kenyan neighbors.

I was told (by Peace Corps staff!) when I was in Kenya that I couldn't write the Ambassador without Peace Corps permission! Pfft...Needless to say I had, and she was coming to visit--get her out of the ivory tower she was living in there in Nairobi, introduce her to rural Kenyans and not just the rich city ones or the ex-pats that populate that town. It was good for my neighbors, good for the ambassador, and good for Peace Corps.

Protesting against the local government would be a much touchier situation...

By Timothy J. Enright on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 9:48 am: Edit Post

I am an RPCV who was in Kazakhstan from 99-01, and believe that while a PCV, you must not organize protests in the host country because it portrays the US government in a bad light, and only undermines the credibility of Peace Corps actions.

As stated by others, you take an oath upon completion of training, and therefore work for the US government. No one can expect to have their personal beliefs restrained, but it should not be a problem to control the desire of PCVs to organize demonstrations. You are there to help the people develop, not to protest against the US government.

As Jason above stated, you are a PCV 24/7, and that will impact the opinion of host country nationals, because whether you do or not, they consider your affiliation with the PC as part of your identity. As such, they may not differentiate your opinions from those of the Peace Corps.

I will likely not agree with most RPCVs, but believe while overseas it is important to present an apolitical face of the Peace Corps, as that remains its greatest strength and allows it to work in so many different countries.

By JIm Brown on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 10:04 am: Edit Post

Volunteers living overseas should have better sense than to involve themselves in protesting against their own country, no matter what the issue. If they're living in the U.S. fine, but overseas, they should be supporting their country as best they can and if opposed to issues or polices express those opinions to individuals, not be involved in a mass protest in front of their own embassy. It shows a lack of good sense and considerable immaturity.

By Turkmenistan RPCV on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 10:08 am: Edit Post

Americans abroad are indeed subject to host country laws and regulations. As guests in foreign nations, Peace Corps volunteers have an obligation to abide by those laws and adhere to host country rules regarding organized gathering, protesting, assembly, etc. However, the ‘apolitical’ directive that we all signed to upon swearing-in as volunteers indicates only that we remain out of host country politics, i.e., PCVs are not to participate in demonstrations against the host government, nor rallies to elect a particular candidate, nor provocative conversations that could endanger host families or work counterparts, nor subversive actions to undermine even egregious regimes. That said, the ‘apolitical’ terms PCVs agree to in no way indicate an abridgement of personal U.S. First Amendment rights regarding U.S. government policies or procedures. Peace Corps volunteers do not forfeit or relinquish their citizenship upon serving overseas – in fact we retain all of our privileges and civic responsibilities – we may vote, write to our Congressional representatives, participate in local and state elections, pay taxes…

It thus follows that Peace Corps volunteers, so long as they are not organizing with the aim of influencing the host country government, jeopardizing the safety or security of their host families and work counterparts, nor violating host country laws, may and perhaps ought to demonstrate and express their views regarding the U.S. Government and its policies. An organized, peaceful protest, in line with First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, outside a U.S. embassy does not violate the ‘maintain an apolitical stance toward host country politics’ clause signed by volunteers. If anything, it positively demonstrates two of the most treasured and crucially important tenants of democracy, speech and assembly – and it gives an embassy the opportunity to demonstrate one more – tolerance of opposing viewpoints.

NB: Some expatriates living overseas do sign paperwork that limits public expression, namely those employed in the realm of creating and upholding U.S. foreign policy. Those individuals freely sign and pledge to carry out and professionally support even those foreign policy decisions to which they are ideologically opposed. Still, these individuals retain their rights to dissent, to write to their Congresspeople, to pay taxes, and to remain active citizens. If the Peace Corps should in the future decide to require of volunteers a signed statement that they will support all U.S. foreign policy decisions, regardless of ideological differences, then this argument would be rendered moot and volunteers, having pledged, could justifiably be separated from service for publicly protesting, thereby violating the terms of their agreement.

RPCV Turkmenistan, COS 2001

By Benito Mussolini on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 10:56 am: Edit Post

As a returned volunteer from the Dominican Republic I am ashamed of the actions of the PC-DR staff.

Although I can sympathize with the concerns for upholding a "respectable" image of the Peace Corps--and I lived that need to be "respectable" to get something done--PC-DR should have worked with the Volunteers to encourage a demonstration that was consistent with the goals of Peace Corps: share with host country nationals what American culture is about; share with Volunteers and people back home what the host country culture is about.

A peaceful demonstration on the issues with jointly crafted messages and without reference to the Volunteers' status as quasi-government representatives would have met both sides' needs.

Shame on you; shame on my fascist government.

By michael on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 11:00 am: Edit Post

I have seen an interesting trend in the past twenty years - that of "subsidized protest." What is protest without risk? It seems a bit amusing that volunteers would want to take such an extreme measure (protesting their own government abroad while representing it) but ask to be free of any consequences. Free speech without any sort of consequence is cheap and frivolous (I give you Howard Stern). Why should the U.S. Government subsidize this type of protest? Protest with consequence weeds out vanity, immaturity, and solipsism. Just as we don't want a repressive state, we can't afford one without substantive responsibility.

By Terry Adcock Colombia 1961-63 on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 11:39 am: Edit Post

The Viet Nam invasion had only tentatively begun when I returned from the Peace Corps. Had I been in Colombia during the time of the main invasion (and subsequent invasion of Cambodia), I would have done what I did as a Federal employee here in the U.S. during that time. I would have joined any non-violent demonstrations available to me on my own time. I had time off as a Federal employee, and as a Volunteer.

And, I would have done the same for the invasion of Iraq (and DID do so recently as a Civil Service retiree). I did not wear a sign saying "I am a Federal employee" but I felt it my duty to "speak out" with my body against invasions that I felt were wrong, inhumane, unjust, and unconstitutional.

I served in the Peace Corps, because I was determined not to stand by and let those who seek war and violence do all the talking.

I do not intend to let them shut me up now*.

If the Peace Corps had felt it their duty to separate me from my volunteer service, then I would have taken the demonstration to the Peace Corps Headquarters doorstep.

Shutting up those who desire peace over war is NOT part of the Peace Corps ideal, in my opinion.

* I vigorously and vociferously opposed the nomination of the current Director because it was clear to me that he was appointed by the Bush Administration as a political hack who would do whatever the Administration might demand to silence dissent -- separate Volunteers, threaten Volunteers, humiliate Volunteers, and/or destroy the Peace Corps. It appears that I was not wrong.

By John Rude on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 1:57 pm: Edit Post

Several comments lead me to conclude that brainwashing has succeeded among some ex-PCVs. They can't be blamed: not only Peace Corps policy, but the entire U.S. culture tends to produce non-reflective "sunshine patriots" whose ignorance of history and foreign policy causes them to become passive bystanders during historic upheavals.

Paul Theroux is fine example of ethical behavior. Not only did he protest Malawian dictator Banda; he also helped dissidents escape torture and death, and stayed in Africa after his expulsion to teach in Uganda. The Peace Corps terminated him, but this only tarnished the Peace Corps' reputation.

My own experience is somewhat similar, although I was only monitored by Peace Corps staff, as they fed information about our school's newspaper to Haile Selassie's goon squads. I left Eritrea before the independence movement was in full swing, but I supported Eritrean independence for the next several decades. More than half of my students were killed in the liberation struggle. They are the ones I cared about; not the Peace Corps.

When your personal integrity clashes with your employer or your government (no matter where in the world you're located) you should choose personal integrity every time. Yes, you'll pay a price, and you may even discover later that you misplaced your loyalties. But you'll have fewer regrets than those who are asked, "What did you do during the [fill in the blank] holocaust?" ... and you're forced to say: "I followed the rules."

By Jennifer Weisent on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 4:54 pm: Edit Post

This incident is a perfect example of the dictatorial nature of our current goverment. The fact that such oppression has infiltrated the infrastructure of Peace Corps is truly frightening.
-RPCV Ecuador 1998

By Greg Heigel on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - 9:32 pm: Edit Post

I KNEW Andy Kauffman was still alive. I'm happy to see he's a PCV. :-)

By Stanley Currier on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 12:06 am: Edit Post

When we have the desire to speak, but lose the ability--

Are we to live two years of our lives without expressing our opinions, expressing ourselves? Suppressing freedom of speech, suppressing freedom of THOUGHT--since when does this fit the definition of "peace," of promoting "cultural exchange and understanding?"

Speak up and speak out! Or lose yourself in the convoluted mess of political correctness and senseless trepidation characterizing so much of our "homeland" these days...

RPCV Kazakhstan, 1999-2001

By Joanne Marie Roll (joey) on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 1:51 pm: Edit Post

While I salue the DR Volunteers. I believe that for the most part
Peace Corps Volunteers are really political pawns. They are not workers, because they do not have a union. They are not government employees because they do not have civil service protection. They have no real way to enforce whatever rights they may theoretically retain as Americans. They replicate the exact powerless status of the very poor people they proport to serve. They are hostages to the prevailing political winds...of their administrative patrons ..who, for the most part, have never served in the peace corps.

The real mystery is how otherwise normal Americans have been seduced into serving under such unamerican circumstances for over forty years. I know, I went. I am glad I served. But, I take no pride in having accepting that awful status nor in my own silence at the unfair treatment of many of my fellow volunteers.

By popeye c on Sunday, June 15, 2003 - 3:50 pm: Edit Post

Michi wrote, "As long as they're not protesting as PCVs but as American citizens (a minor but important distinction)..."

The challenge is that you can't easily make this separation. You can say until you're blue in the face that you're protesting as a citizen. But to the people in your village, you're a PCV. This distinction may be solidified in your own head but to others, perception is reality.

What happens when the PCV joins an protest against the govt in the host country? The same country in which s/he is not only a guest but an invite of that same govt.

The fact of the matter is that by accepting Peace Corps living allowance, you're also accepting their rules and regulations. You can quit at any time. I think people forget this difference. When you work for an organization, you have different obligations than those who don't work for that organization. PCVs are generally supposed to be apolitical. You may or may not agree with it (both sides have their merits) but it's part of the deal you know beforehand when you join.

By Jason Pearce (jasonpearce) on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 6:56 pm: Edit Post

Guyana's Country Director Earl Brown (2002 – 2004) has twice sent volunteers home for expressing their first amendment rights.

In August 2002, I was given early termination for promoting a better understanding of the Guyanese on the part of Americans via my personal Web site, audio diary, and photo album. Though the site was public at one point, I tried to appease the Peace Corps by adding passwords and other barriers of entry to protect my personal comments from others, to no avail.

In February 2003, two more volunteers were sent home due to a personal email sent to friends and family. Through forwarding, their message made it back to Guyana, their community, and the Peace Corps. Though private, their message wrongfully ended up reaching unexpected recipients and they were sent home because of it.

It's disappointing that the Peace Corps strips volunteers of their right to freedom of expression via personal Web sites, private emails, online photo albums, and the many other ways that they might choose to communicate with friends and family. Volunteers cannot promote a better understanding of Americans if they are not permitted to behave and communicate as Americans.

By laura holder mills on Sunday, June 22, 2003 - 9:56 pm: Edit Post

I understand, and underscore, the need to differentiate ourselves speaking out as private citizens rather than as representatives of the Peace Corps. I don't think it's possible to separate ourselves from our identities as PCVs, but I do think it's possible to convince our host country nationals that we are not representing PC, that our views are of ourselves as individual people.

This is part of the democratic values that we are trying to present to our host countries--that we can be patriotic citizens of the US and still disagree with particular policies of our government. To capitulate to a sense that we have to support our government right or wrong, which is what I am shocked to hear some RPCVs saying here, flies in the face of our American democratic ideals. What can we show our host country nationals if not the fact that dissent can be peaceful and constructive, and that it is a right we won't let go of?

Thailand 82-84, Nepal 84-86

By joey on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 3:20 pm: Edit Post

I don't think Laura read Jason Pearce's posting. While she writes an eloquent defense of civil liberities, she fails to understand that some volunteers can't exercise these rights....that is the whole point of the Nation's article and this discussion. So what happens when a PCV shows that "dissent can be peaceful and constructive" and is immediately "administratively separated" and sent home. What does that prove? That not all volunteers have rights? That all volunteers are equal, but some are more equal than others? Exactely. Joanne Marie Roll Colombia 63-65

By Joanne Marie Roll (joey) on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 3:30 pm: Edit Post

I don't think Laura read what Jason Pearce wrote.
Volunteers who did express their opinion and attempted to assert their First Amendment rights have been send home. This is very serious. While Laura's defense of civil liberities is quite eloquent, it doesn't mean anything is there is no way to protect them. Volunteers who show "dissent can be peaceful and constructuve" and are then, administratively separated and abruptly shipped home demonstrate to host country nationals that volunteers are not free and the United States may not be trusted.
Volunteers need some kind of legal protection which is stronger than an handbook or the whim of a political appointee. I think individual service contracts might be created to provide such protection.
Joanne Marie Roll Colombia 63-65

By Steve Kosten on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 1:26 am: Edit Post

In response to two previous postings:

Popeye C wrote: "... But to the people in your village, you're a PCV. This distinction may be solidified in your own head but to others, perception is reality."

Based upon Popeye's reasoning, policy decisions ought to be based upon perception rather than upon reality. But perception by definition is subjective, there can be thousands of perceptions of a single reality, upon which perception shall we base policy on? Should policies be based upon the host country national who recognizes no difference between the PCV as a PCV and as an American citizen? Or should policies be based upon the host country national who does recognize the difference (and there certainly are those that do, perhaps many more than Popeye supposed). I believe the wise choice is to base policy on reality, and if the villagers are confused, educate them on the difference. They will come to appreciate America more when they see that all American citizens can protest or support their governments actions, no matter where they are!

On another topic, Michael wrote: "... Free speech without any sort of consequence is cheap and frivolous (I give you Howard Stern). Why should the U.S. Government subsidize this type of protest? Protest with consequence weeds out vanity, immaturity, and solipsism." I was incredulous w/ this comment. It seems that Michael really wants protest (free speech in opposition of existing policies) to have consequence, not merely free speech. For if he truly wanted all free speech to have consequence (apparently to improve the quality of debate), he'd have the sign-waving supporters of candidates for public office arrested. Is that what you want Michael? No, didn't think so, just those darned hippies who are using their free speech to criticize government actions. Michael, I'm afraid of the subversive government you so desire!

RPCV Fiji 93-95

By DavidCohen on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 8:13 am: Edit Post

Since when did it become unacceptable (and in some circles, treasonous) for Americans to protest US policy while abroad? This "tradition" dates all the way back to -- 1992! Yes, this 'tradition" was created by the Bush (41) campaign to impugn Bill Clinton for protesting the Vietnam War in London. It was reborn this year to protect Bush (43) from protest.

There was never any tradition, nor a consensus, that ordinary Americans traveling abroad may not speak their minds. The tradition is that OFFICIAL Americans (Congesspersons, Senators, USG employees) traveling on OFFICIAL business do not criticize US foreign policy while abroad. When the Peace Corps was created, a special exception was created -- we may speak our mind, so long as we make it clear that we speak for ourselves alone. Somehow, the position on Official Americans has morphed into a prohibition on any criticism while overseas by anyone.

We, as Americans, do not sacrifice our First Amendment rights while traveling, we merely give up the legal protections for those rights, since the US does not have jurisdiction abroad. So long as any protest respects the laws of the country in which it occurs, just what is the problem? PCVs participating in a protest of US policy in front of the US Embassy should not be a problem. Part of what Peace Corps is about is showing people that democracy (and peaceful dissent) work. Threatening the potential protesters with separation set a disgraceful example to the world.

David M. Cohen
Sierra Leone 79-81

By Clark Efaw on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 8:44 am: Edit Post

When you agree to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, you don't get to make up your own rules. The rules are made by the US Government and serve its interests. As a private citizen you can express your opinion but when you represent yourself to the public as part of the Peace Corps, you follow those rules. You have to be more careful about how you act and speak as a PCV than you do in real life.
You always have the choice to practice civil disobedience. But when you do, you accept the consequences of your own actions. That's part of the deal of participating in civil society. If you break the rules and then try to escape the consequences, it undermines the credibility of your conviction. So make your choice and then take what's coming to you. It looks bad to blame others for the situation you have put yourself in.
- Clark Efaw, Guatemala, 94-96

By Gil Merkle on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 10:12 am: Edit Post

I am an 'outsider'; just a citizen of the United States; a member of the Government of the People. Everyone has the right to free speech - though, each must stand ready to accept the reaction to anything he or she says. It is that right for which many have fought and died. There are many in the world who don't want freedom to exist and who strive to destroy it. US citizens who speak out should ensure the words spoken support the freedoms on which our nation was founded and that the words not bolster those who would deny freedom to others.

By Moriah Hart on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 11:27 am: Edit Post

As a Peace Corps Volunteer you always represent the USA and Peace Corps in your host country. I often was asked questions by my students about actions taken in my free or "off" time. Most questions started with "Do all Americans..." and could be filled in with whatever I had done that evening, use that toothpaste, buy that toilet paper, wear those shoes, watch that TV program, go to bed/get up at that time, etc. I also heard questions about other volunteers in other towns and regions, "The Peace Corps Volunteer in this village does this ... why don't you?" However, I did express my opinions to my students and friends. I explained that they were my personal opinions, that not everyone would agree with me, but that some might. I asked their opinions as well. I did not join in any protests. As a Peace Corps Volunteer I was a symbol of America and an American citizen with all of the priveledges, I was also subject to the laws of my host country and had no desire to end up in a local jail or shot by a law enforcement officer. As someone mentioned earlier there are consequences to be paid for every action.

Moriah Hart Moldova 97-99

By Matthew on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 1:24 pm: Edit Post

Our right to protest freely our government’s policies without fear of retribution from that government is what sets us (Americans) apart from our friends and neighbors in (most of) the countries in which we serve. Isn’t that aspect of Democracy one we want to share and promote with our hosts? Doesn’t anyone remember the second goal?

It absolutely amazes me how many RPCVs have posted replies here against the PCVs’ rights to protest. Of course I agree that they must do so as private American citizens, not representing the PC.

-Matthew; Comoros 90-92

By bobutne on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 9:34 pm: Edit Post

The credibility of this Administration around the world is at its lowest ebb. For GWB to proclaim to the nation (and world) in his State of the Union address that Niger was assisting Iraq to develop nuclear weapons was a self-admitted lie and is simply one example of the deceptive acts this Administration uses to deceive the American public and rest of world for, alegedly, dubious ends.

GWB justifies his lie in stating that the world is better off without SH in power. On the other hand, the majority of Americans in 2000 believed that America (and the rest of the world) be better off if GWB was not in power. Five members of our Supreme Court disagreed.

So, middle America (Fox TV) has rallied around GWB in a fearful state of "WE against dem foreign terrorists". Congress abdicates its responsibilities and adds insult to injury by voting huge tax breaks for the rich and allows our state governments to peril.

Viva the Dominican Republic PCVs!!!!!

By Nick Wreden on Sunday, July 13, 2003 - 1:20 pm: Edit Post

The comments about whether PC is a political organization brought back a memory. I was a new PCV in Korea undergoing training in July 1974. As you may recall, this was about a month before Pres. Nixon resigned for attempting to subvert the Constitution. A politically appointed PC director assembled all the trainees. He sat on a chair, we sat on the floor, and a USIA film crew filmed the event. Then he proceeded to tell the cameras "how much Peace Corps volunteers support Pres. Nixon for his courageous leadership in his hour of need." I stood up and protested. As a result, I was banished to a town so rough that no volunteer had every completed a tour of duty. When I left PC after completing my tour, the departing words from the PC director were, "Nick, we never understood why you never got on the Peace Corps team." I applaud the Dominican Republic PCVs. They are an example of what the Peace Corps -- and this country -- are all about.
Nick Wreden, K32.

By Joanne Marie Roll (joey) on Sunday, July 13, 2003 - 1:21 pm: Edit Post

All the issues discussed here over the last year - security; mental health services; post service medical care, freedom of expression, and independence - have at their center the tension between the Peace Corps Volunteer and the Peace Corps Agency....and the lack of legal definition of that relationship. The Volunteer has essentially no power and the Agency is in a constant, demanding cycle of recruit, retain, replace. If a Volunteer is not on the job -for any of the reasons stated above-the Volunteer is of no value to the agency. There is no bureacratic incentative to pay attention to the politically incensed, the sick or otherwise inactive PCV. Continunity of the mission rests with the Agency, not the Volunteer corps. The individual tour of one Volunteer is just a blink of the eye in a forty two year agency time span.

I used to think, idealistically (where did that come from?) that if serving Volunteers had individual service contracts, they would then have a stronger legal position. Realistically, that is not going to happen. As we all know, “good” volunteer don’t need any more legal protection and “bad” volunteers (read: sick, frustrated, angry, opinionated) don’t deserve it.

Besides, there is always a new class of baby brand new Volunteers with none of the problems of the retiring group. As RPCVs, we should tell our stories, sing our songs, and be true to our friends. The Peace Corps belongs to the United States and our part in it is only fleeting.

By Phyllis on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 2:46 pm: Edit Post

First, Sasha is incorrect in stating that administrative separation is the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge. A dishonorable discharge may be rendered only after a conviction by General Courtmartial (conviction by courtmartial results in a felony conviction). Second, while I am confused about the way the post handled the investigation of the protest organizer, I think it only fair to say; Peace Corps volunteers are not sent to foreign countries to espouse their political beliefs. There are as many volunteers who agree with the government as there are those who disagree.

Why is it okay for us (americans) to take our problems, politics, bad manners, and general disregard for others every where we go? What happened to not airing our dirty laundry in public?

People, it is not your place to chastise the US government on foreign soil while acting as goodwill ambassadors for that same country. If you are so angry with the US for its foreign policy-then send a letter back home to the paper, write your congressman, organize a senatorial letter writing campaign. There are many ways you can voice your opinion without using your position as a PC Volunteer in another country. I almost get the impression the organizers felt unaccepted in their sites and were seeking a way to find common ground with the HCN's or their counter-parts. Was this march as altruistic as the organizer says-or is this someone that needed a way to get involved in the politcal activitism arena with no other entree and decided to use PC as a springboard? The more you think about this march; the more possibilities exist.

You want to know what is really ironic? The organizers and participants would probably have wanted the same embassy they were planning on picketing to provide assistance to them as US citizens if they had been arrested for protesting (or rioting).

By Kyle of Jamaica ( - on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 4:31 pm: Edit Post

We discussed having a demonstration here in Jamaica. As with our counter parts in the DR we ran into the brick wall of the CD. Peace Corps volunteers are NOT employees of the US government, so what if our living expenses come from the US. People on public welfare programs have the right to protest, as do students with federally subsidized loans. I do understand the complications of being in another country, but having a voice no matter who or where you are is a fundamental part of being a US citizen. Those of you who posted comments against volunteer protests, how could you have forgotten so much?

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