Big guns join in Powell's clean-up

President Bill Clinton, three former US presidents, their wives, and numerous American celebrities rolled up their sleeves yesterday morning and armed themselves with brooms and mops to lead 5,000 young volunteers in a glitzy clean-up of a rundown area of Philadelphia. The mass scrubbing effort in the city's litter- and graffiti-strewn Germantown district was the high-profile opening event in a three-day national convention on volunteering, grandly styled "Presidents for America's future".

The driving force behind the "summit", which brings together more than 30 state governors, 60 city mayors, about 300 business leaders and representatives of hundreds of volunteer agencies, is the retired Gulf War general, Colin Powell. The general's possible entry into US politics is still the subject of much speculation despite his decision not to run for office last year.

Mr Powell was at pains to deny any political motive to his involvement. "I'm very happy in private life," he told NBC television, "I am not in political life." However, he declined to dismiss categorically the idea that he would never stand for the presidency, and clearly relished being a black American role model.

While Mr Powell may be one of the least controversial figures in public life and the central aim of the summit - to provide through voluntary effort adult mentors, safe places, satisfactory health care and education for children in deprived areas - reflects a characteristically American emphasis on the values of private initiative and community involvement, the project has not lacked for critics. The most direct have asked how the momentum to improve inner city areas can possibly be sustained after the razzmatazz of the weekend is over.

Other criticisms are more telling. Certain politicians, on the political right and left, argue that much of the work that the volunteers are being recruited to do - teaching reading, counselling young people in difficulty - ought properly to be paid for by the state. "Teaching our children to read," said a leading Republican yesterday, "is the job of the education system." To this is added the difficulty of recruiting the right volunteers - or even any volunteers at all - to work in areas that are often dangerous for outsiders.

The cost of the campaign is also at issue. Designed to improve the living conditions of 2 million out of the 15 million children thought to live in poverty in the US, the programme has been conservatively costed at $15bn (pounds 9bn), to be paid by the state. Employers are being urged to release volunteers on full pay - a plan that is meeting resistance.

And despite its determinedly apolitical character, with a former Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, and Republicans Gerald Ford and George Bush, agreeing to take part, the summit has brought party political accusations. Mr Clinton, say some opponents, is using the summit to try to increase funding for his first-term initiative on volunteering, the Americorps. This pays $5,000 towards college fees to young people who spend a year doing community service.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine