Christmas lights have been coming down across south Louisiana as residents put away the trimmings of the holidays for another year. Those lights were a potent reminder of the impact of collective action, something worth keeping in mind in 2019. Individually, each yuletide bulb offered only a tiny glow. When joined with others, though, the lights of Christmas created a brilliance that was no match for the winter gloom.
That comforting reality informed the philosophy of former president George Herbert Walker Bush, who was rightly lauded when he died last November at 94. Accepting the Republican nomination for the presidency as his party gathered in New Orleans in 1988, Bush famously described America’s volunteers as “a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky."
In advancing volunteerism as a critical part of the nation’s strength, Bush suggested that civic life isn’t a spectator sport in which voters simply watch the work of government as a passive audience. There is also a role for those of us who hold no office in making our communities better.
It was fitting that Bush first spoke of a thousand points of light in Louisiana, which has a strong volunteer spirit. That kind of engagement is needed now more than ever as citizens face growing cynicism about civil society. In a world that seems so broken, can one person really make a difference?
We think so, as the good work being done by volunteers across south Louisiana makes clear. In this year as in others, Louisianans will help tutor students in reading and math skills, serve food to the needy, help build houses for families that might not otherwise be able to afford homes of their own.
The best antidote for the darkness of the times is for those of us who aren’t volunteers to get involved in 2019. The commitment doesn’t have to be burdensome. Even an hour a month can make a meaningful contribution to the well-being of our communities.
Bush demonstrated his own commitment to volunteering after Hurricane Katrina, when the former president joined with another ex-president, Bill Clinton, to help the recovery.
There’s no better way to honor Bush’s legacy in this new year than to become a volunteer. Speaking once again of volunteerism in his 1989 inaugural address, Bush said that such “old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.” A generation later, Bush’s call to service continues to resonate. We hope more Louisianans heed it, making 2019 a year of service.