Veterans: Do you remember what it was like to return from World War II as heroes, hearing a strong and sincere "welcome home" from an adoring American public?
Baby Boomers: Do you remember how it felt to hear President Kennedy's inspiring inauguration appeal, asking "what you can do for your country" and urging you to step up to the challenge of civil service careers?
For both Veterans and Boomers, I wonder how it felt to watch the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) lead our nation in its victorious quest to be the first to reach the moon.
As a young man who turned 30 just 3 weeks ago, I earnestly wish my generation could feel something similar -- that American citizens are standing behind and beside their government, believing in their herculean efforts to improve the way they deliver services and support infrastructure that touches almost every aspect of our lives.
I may have felt a small amount of that American pride at a pre-rally march I led this past Saturday as part of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear." Dubbed the "Government Doesn't Suck" march, over 100 people in and around government - mostly members of GovLoop, a social network I created for civil servants and good government advocates - joined me as we chanted and hoisted signs with slogans like "I am NOT red tape," "Government is Awesome" and "What if Gov was one of us?"
My pride wasn't because of the rally itself - we weren't trying to make a political statement - but at the positive response to our presence. Here are a few of the paraphrased comments we heard on Saturday:
This makes my day. I just joined government and everyone thought I was crazy for taking a government job.
I am a retired federal employee. I worked for over 30 years in the government when I could have made more money in the private sector. And the general public perception of government really annoys me. I wish there would have been more groups like yours when I was in government. Somebody needs to fight for government workers"
I am a senior person working in DHS on refugee issues. Every day, I work really hard to help thousands of people. And all I get is beat up and told we're incompetent and lazy. My father even still tells me to get a real job."
When people join GovLoop, we ask them "Why are you a public servant?" The overwhelmingly most common response is "to make a difference." Most government employees are passionate about their work and truly view it as a public service, yet they feel no sense of appreciation from citizens -- especially in hard times when government's role becomes even more vital as a safety net for struggling Americans.
Of course, I admit that I am watching them work from a privileged position: every day, I witness their dedication and determination to be innovative and creative in solving the most vexing challenges of our time - and of all time. In fact, I found it ironic that the night before the rally and on the eve of the election when so many American are voting out of a place of anger and distrust, global governments collaborated to thwart a credible attempt to do our country harm.
Do citizens experience a sense of appreciation for these heroic efforts to protect and serve us?
Or have we come to place in our nation's history where we just take government for granted?
I hope in my lifetime that I will feel a more widespread sense of trust in public officials by citizens -- an American revival of sorts in which young people seek "good government jobs" and commit their careers to public service without fearing condemnation or criticism from family, friends and neighbors.
What will it take?
Veterans and Boomers: Maybe it starts with you.
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