On Monday, January 21, Americans will celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. This is a national holiday rooted in the country’s core ideals.
“Service is a powerful way for citizens, nonprofits, the private sector and government to work together to meet critical needs and advance King’s dream of opportunity for all,” states the Corporation for National and Community Service. “MLK Day is an opportunity for Americans to put the core American principles of citizenship and service into action.”
These core ideals go back to the birth of the country. Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th century French historian and political writer, made a number of observations about America including:
The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”
“I must say that I have seen Americans make great and real sacrifices to the public welfare; and have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend faithful support to one another.”
“If a stoppage occurs in a thoroughfare, and the circulation of the public is hindered, the neighbors immediately constitute a deliberative body; and this extemporaneous assembly gives rise to an executive power which remedies the inconvenience before anybody has thought of recurring to an authority superior to that of the persons immediately concerned.”
It is an American tradition that when we see a problem, we often will seek to solve it. We are not content to sit back, whine, and hope the government will take care of it for us. Certainly, government has its role. However, at the heart of the American democratic spirit is the notion of private citizen action to help one another and our society in general.
Volunteers do much good for our society. They also form an important force that allows our democracy to thrive. On MLK Day, hundreds of thousands of people will volunteer joining the millions who do so throughout the year. This call to service makes MLK Day unique among American national holidays.
43 percent of Americans volunteered in 2011, according to The World Giving Index 2011. The world average was 21 percent. Only four other nations ranked higher than the US for volunteerism in 2011 (Turkmenistan, Liberia, Sri Lanka, and Tajikistan).
In the US, 42 percent of men and 44 percent of women volunteer. By age group, the percentage of the population that volunteered in 2011 breaks out as follows: