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President Obama: Will You Speak to the Civic Community?

Dear President Obama,

There is much commentary these days about your legacy and your continued strivings to further extend your administration’s reach in the remaining months of your second term of office. Your recent expansion of public land reserves and the large expansion of our country’s ocean sanctuaries in the regions surrounding Hawaii and Guam are described as part of your environmental legacy.

I write once again to invite you to meet with the Washington-based, full-time nonprofit civic action and service community. On several occasions during your presidency, I have recommended that you speak to a thousand or more leaders of the national civic community in a downtown D.C. hotel ballroom or auditorium such as historic Constitution Hall.

Nonprofit organizations have millions of dues-paying members throughout the country supporting the fundamental bulwarks and seed corns of our beleaguered democracy.

They cover the important advocacy areas of peace, civil liberties and civil rights, antipoverty and health, consumer protection, environment, labor safety, access to justice, worker rights and many traditional secular and religious charities that minister to the needy.

Yet there has been no response to these invitations except a reply by the office of Michelle Obama on July 17, 2011 saying the President was too busy.

Of course, Presidents are very busy, but they find time, as you did to attend nearly 500 fundraisers around the country and to visit numerous factories and other corporate destinations. Even during a visit to India, you found time to extol Boeing Airplanes and Harley-Davidson Motorcycles.

No President has explicitly reached out to the broad civic community since President-elect Jimmy Carter attended such a special mass convocation in Washington, D.C., late in 1976. He came to listen and to meet the constituency that he knew was crucial to enacting many of the substantive programs he was planning at the time. It was a grand, motivating success.

Late in your second term, you could come to serve several other purposes. First, you can give necessary visibility to those committed people whose groups are left in the shadows during presidential election years despite their ability to enrich the content of such electoral activities with their exceptional hands-on knowledge and experience.

Second, you can make recommendations regarding various facilities, checkoffs and new directions which can enlarge nonprofit membership and programs.

Third, you can educate the public about the critical role this “voluntary sector” has played in American history.

Fourth, you can herald the significant number of jobs and economic activity—millions of staff and tens of billions of dollars coursing through the economy—which can only expand with larger philanthropy by billionaires, mega-millionaires, and regular citizens you might inspire to contribute to nonprofit organizations.

Your address can become a presidential marker for your successors and for future generations of Americans inspired by your concrete words and proposals.

It is difficult to understand why you have not yet embraced this opportunity. Certainly you have mentioned civic duty, civic engagement and civic visions for posterity on a number of occasions. Especially now when all elections are behind you, isn’t it time to highlight the civic values and the civic heroes who reflect them in ways both dutiful and dramatic?

Lastly, such a presentation will set a finer, higher stage for your successor to inherit.

What say you, President Obama?

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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