Did you know that in 1933, when the country was sick and nobody knew what to do about it, people got in their cars, drove to Washington, presented themselves at the White House, and said “What can I do to help?”
Lawyers did it. Railroad executives did it. Sometimes bankers would take a leave of absence, or even quit their jobs altogether, to go help the Federal Reserve as it tried to keep banks afloat and stave off runs during the Depression.
Farmers got together at local markets and elected a person to go help out, and then they passed a hat to collect enough money to pay the man’s train fare.
Chambers of commerce sent men.
The Masons sent men.
There were professors who didn’t represent any company or organization at all, but they had specialized knowledge that could be put to use. They went to Washington.
Writers, the most anti-social species ever to walk the earth, went to Washington and VOLUNTARILY worked for the government. They produced state travel guides that are still worth reading today.
And when all these people got to Washington, Roosevelt held the door open for them. They were put to work. Committees were formed. Conference rooms in government buildings were converted into offices. John Dos Passos, who watched the whole thing in amazement, said that “some worked on folding chairs and cardtables in corridors.” And when the offices closed, “they hurriedly ate and went home and sat smoking in their shirtsleeves in hotel rooms . . . checking programs, industrial pricelists, fair trade practices, standards of wages and working conditions, poring redeyed over dogeared acts of Congress in the dense tiny print of the Government Printing Office . . .”
And slowly, by stages, the country started to work, too.
It sounds crazy, but these guys went to Washington and created jobs by simply WILLING THE JOB TO EXIST.
And the joy in the work was contagious. Men worked 12 hours a day, breaking rocks in state parks, to be used to build hiking trails–and they were grateful for the chance. Others destroyed their spines, digging drainage ditches in places that still had dirt roads–and most of them still praised Roosevelt for creating the job in the first place.
And there was never any extra money.
And there was never any more foreign trade.
And the stock market was still not recovering.
And most people had nothing.
And all Roosevelt could do was say “Come help out. We’ll get through it.”
And people did. They helped out. They put their own interests aside for a few years, and they put the country first.
Most of them weren’t even paid.
Isn’t that quaint?
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