I would like to correct some erroneous information about AARP that appeared in your conversation with Theda Skocpol (“Civic Dissociation,” Summer 2003).
Skocpol uses AARP as an example of an organization that doesn’t provide much opportunity for engagement among its members, saying, for example, that AARP “doesn’t have chapters.” This statement is incorrect. We have more than 3,000 chapters nationwide, including 52 here in Massachusetts. Some of these chapters are more active than others. Some are very engaged in the civic life of their communities, working with their local senior centers on a variety of projects and initiatives. Some are purely social clubs, while some have a strong slant toward advocacy. For example, in AARP’s recent battle to save Prescription Advantage in Massachusetts, hundreds of chapter members from Salem, Brockton, Quincy, Braintree, and Peabody came to the State House to protest Gov. Romney’s planned elimination of the program. Their presence and their voices put a human face on the issue, and I believe they made a positive difference.
In addition to chapters, we have numerous volunteer opportunities for our members, from teaching driver-safety classes for older drivers to educating voters during election seasons. AARP also has a fully staffed office in every state. This is a recent development, achieved only in the past few years, but one which our all-volunteer board of directors, drawn from AARP membership, thought was a necessary step to more fully engage our members in the organization and its social mission of enhancing the quality of life for all as we age.
Deborah E. Banda
Woburn group gives people a stake in the civic sector
Having started a nonprofit organization called Social Capital, Inc., a year ago, I read with great interest your conversation with Theda Skocpol, which, in part, took issue with Robert Putnam’s analysis of what’s eroding civic life. SCI is developing a community-based model for building social capital and increasing civic engagement. Our program areas include “Connecting Citizens to Information,” “Developing Community Leaders,” and “Promoting Youth Civic Engagement.” We’ve started our programming here in my hometown of Woburn and are making plans to expand our work to additional communities.
Reading Bowling Alone was a key part of what led me to start SCI, yet my reading of your conversation with Skocpol reinforces the approach we are taking. A key part of SCI’s strategy is to work collaboratively with existing community organizations to offer an “amalgam of activities” that ranges from informal social events (such as a downtown Woburn concert series that started last summer) to activities designed to encourage political participation. While the informal activities might not automatically lead to civic engagement (though I believe there’s a relationship), SCI believes that intentionally putting together an array of community activities puts us in a position to help translate informal social capital into engagement in political and social issues. We are, to some degree, working to counter the overspecialization in the civic sector that Skocpol talks about.
Anyway, thanks for the interesting article. I’ve got to pick up Diminished Democracy now!
President and founder
Social Capital, Inc.
Pro-transit group is offshoot of anti-highway movementRegarding your Inquiry on Car-Free in Boston and the Association for Public Transportation (“Car-free guide is back on track“): For the record, the two groups that fought the proposed highways through and around Boston in the late 1960s and early 1970s were the Greater Boston Committee on the Transportation Crisis and Citizens for Rail Transportation. After their victory, they decided to go out of business and focus on improving public transportation. They met in the mid-1970s and formed the Association for Public Transportation. APT itself, while a worthy organization, had nothing to do with the anti-highway movement.