Peace (Corps) & Conflict

There’s a big, ugly intrusion on the fourth page of this issue. In its full multicolored glory, its text commands: “MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR WORLD.” Because you are the educated, privileged reader of a college newspaper, the text reminds, the “world” is yours.

I was unsure at first about whether or not to run the Peace Corps ad. I knew that our policy would allow me to reject any ad, and that from an anti-imperialist stance, I do not support the Peace Corps. Karen Rothmyer, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, treats this topic in an NPR column reminding readers that U.S. foreign aid efforts often take a symptomatic approach to global inequality; instead of supporting the governments and economies of the nations they aim to ‘help,’ they perpetuate imperialist dynamics by isolating problems and providing band-aid solutions. She refers to a case in 1970s Liberia, where “the Peace Corps may have helped to tamp down, rather than encourage, demands for change” by quelling small, treatable concerns and thus undermining the validity of political disillusionment and resistance. Rothmyer goes on to consider: “I wonder how much we Kenya volunteers, in a small way, did the same thing.”

I looked at the Peace Corps ad again, staring into the smiling face of Cynthia, a young woman placed in the nebulous nation of Nicaragua—the country apparently lacks defined municipalities, the ad implies. Cynthia thickened my guilt. In her, I saw myself: one year ago I was studying abroad in Managua, Nicaragua (a real, politically-determined city), and while I was taking classes rather than pretending to save anyone, I was still active proof of U.S. imperial power. But succumbing to my moral guilt might be a practical mistake: would it be irresponsible to give up the Voice’s ad revenue at the last minute? Would rejecting the ad be a noble, anti-capitalist move, or an imposition of my personal beliefs on the entire paper? Would running it imply that I support the established system, and reject progress?

With these questions in mind, I did what I usually do when I’m in need of comfort and guidance: research. This situation did not fall into the category of the unambiguous; for one, while the Peace Corps does not align with my moral priorities, the acceptance or rejection of the Peace Corps exemplifies a more nuanced political stance, than, say, the denunciation of the KKK (which did send us a letter, one I will never run). So I compared some advertising policies, and one, from The Nation, stuck out to me: “We start with strong presumption against banning advertisers because we disapprove of, or even abhor, their political or social views. But we reserve (and exercise) the right to attack them in our editorial columns.”

While The Nation operates differently from the Voice—unlike ours, “[their] pages are primarily given over to articles that are consistent with the views of the editors”—this stance on advertising, I think, makes sense. Although we might run ads that Voice staff members do not support, “commerce is less sacrosanct than political speech,” as The Nation puts it. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t denounce our advertisers. So thank you, to the Peace Corps, for helping us pay our printing bills, but not for much else.