Should Peace Corps Volunteers retain first amendment rights?

Last month PeaceCorpsOnline.org ran a story about a group of 60 Peace Corps volunteers in the Dominican Republic who had planned a peace demonstration at the US Embassy against US policy in Iraq in March and asked RPCVs to comment on whether Peace Corps Volunteers retain first amendment rights while serving overseas to protest actions of the United States Government.

This story provoked more comments than any other story they have published in a long time. More than 50 messages have made on the topic; one of them was mine.

Since making this post on June 16, 2003, traffic to my site grew 344 percent (which is to say three more people showed up). Kidding aside, my story is being read by others.

PeaceCorpsOnline.org Publisher Hugh Pickens sent me an email the day following my post requesting if he could feature me in an upcoming issue. Yesterday, he followed up with an email saying my story is being considered for their August issue.

I’ve also received a few emails from people who read my comments at PeaceCorpsOnline.org and followed links to my site. Here are a few excerpts from emails I’ve received from visitors:

From: “Peter”
Subject: Peace Corps
Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2003 18:19:01 -0500

Jason,

I just read your posting on the RPCV website. I am very sorry to hear what you went through. It’s something we were threatened with in Sierra Leone as well.

I served in that country for three years, from 1979 to 1982. As I recall, the Peace Corps handbook allowed volunteers to speak to the US press without hindrance, and suggested caution in talking to host country media. Against that background, we received a sneering (the best word that I can think of that the moment) letter from the Peace Corps Director saying any volunteer who spoke to any media, at home or in-country, would be terminated, and any staff member who did so would be fired. The idea was that we might win an appeal, but could never return to Sierra Leone.

This came after someone in the media interviewed a PCV. I was told the story came out very positively, but I don’t know for sure — I lived at the remote end of the country. It nearly caused a revolt among the volunteers, especially when he sent out a second memo saying there was a correction, and it was exactly the same as before. There were other problems with this director as well.

Peace Corps has been gone from Sierra Leone for nearly ten years, but it remains very popular and now that the war is over the government wants it back. I would still advise volunteers to be cautious in talking to the press. Many of the publishers in Freetown are now friends or acquaintances of mine, and I make the statement in full knowledge of the perils that anyone might face with the media. Still, I think that is their right.

Regards,

Peter

And this one…

Date: Tue, 08 Jul 2003 10:06:15 -0500
From: Bianca

Good Morning Jason,

I’ve read most of your website regarding your “adventures” with the Peace Corps.

It was nice to hear/read something negative. I have an idealistic view of the PC and its services. It was refreshing to hear it’s not all peaches and cream. I find it hard to believe that everyone has a positive experience with the Peace Corps so reading your story made the organization a bit more human, flawed at times.

Thanks again,

Bianca

For those who are visiting my site for the first time and wish to learn more about my Peace Corps experience, here are a few helpful links:

Early Termination
An extensive section documenting my early termination. This section include memos and emails exchanged between myself and the Peace Corps.

My Monologue
You’re in it. It is here that I share my experiences (dull and exciting) with the world. Posts appear in reverse chronological order.

First Peace Corps posting
I arrived in Guyana on Wednesday, June 5, 2002. This is my first posting.

Last Peace Corps posting
My last post was made on Wednesday, August 21, 2002. I was sent home Friday, August 23.

Audio Diaries
Two 10-minute MP3 audio diaries that I recorded and posted while in Guyana. Country Director Earl Brown took such offence to these two files he took them to Guyana US Ambassador Ronald Godard.

Letters of Support
Letters and small notes I received from most of my peers in disgust of my early departure.

Thank you all for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

1 Comment


  1. It is interesting for me to read for the first time something to balance the marketing of PC as this utopia like experience where they take care of you, provide and give this opportunity…I see only now this is a really old entry…

    I would love a little more balance in the story about PC because so many (at least in our group) were idealistic, naive, young… and believing something different than what the reality turned out to be. Then the “ET” was so stigmatized within our group, as to be a “quitter” (=loser). When I left days early (Country Director told me only as I was on my way out that he forgot to tell me that I was eligible for early COS) a friend commented offhandedly “That’s okay, you’ll just make the rest of us look better,”

    The reality of what the volunteers status is, what they can expect should be a little more forthcoming. I don’t mind the difficulty, I did mind being told I shouldn’t talk about it to anyone ever.

    Western Russia 96-98

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