Action Director Sam Brown had what he thought was a good idea: take a group of "unstrained" ghetto blacks from a city such as Oakland, Calif.; send them to a "developing country," such as Jamaica, to do volunteer service-land terracing, for example-for three months; and bring them back home where they could apply their overseas experience to solving domestic problems.
The purpose was to show that short term voluntarism is a "viable development tool" abroad and at home, that domestic and international volunteer service programs could complement one another, and that nontraditional volunteers-such as inner-city blacks-could be used effectively in federal volunteer programs.
The idea flopped.
The Jamaican government, already saddled with high unemployment among youths and increasingly violent political unrest, didn't like it. Tow ranking Peace Corps officials, Director Carolyn R. Payton and Jamaica Director Loretta Carter-Miller, opposed it, Carter-Miller quit as a result. Payton, whom Brown forced to resign last month, said the "Jamaica Brigade" proposal was a key source of friction between herself and Brown.
The upshot was that no "brigade" was sent, no "short-term volunteer program"-a major Brown goal-got underway, and no substantially new Peace Corps program has begun since Brown took office two years ago.
Critics of ACTION, which oversees government volunteer service programs, have seized on the failure to press claim that Brown is a starry-eyed ideologist trapped by the fervour of his days as an antiwar and political activist and incapable of moving the federal bureaucracy or dealing with the Third World.
Brown said that real problem is that he's meeting massive bureaucratic opposition in his efforts to change the Corp's image and operation.
"There are a lot of people who think the Peace Corps should continue to operate the way it did in the '60s," he said,"They think we should be satisfied with just providing technical assistance and acting as people-to-people ambassasors. I can't accept that.
"for the last 15 years in some countries we've been doing the same thing [sending two-years volunteers to work on construction, health and teaching projects for example.]
"I'm not saying anything is wrong with that. In fact, that's good. But the world has changed drastically since the 1960s, and if the Peace Corps is going to continue to make sense, it has to stay on top of where the world is and stop wishing it could go back to where the world was 15 years ago."
He said the Jamaica Brigade, conceived in early 1977 and aborted early this year, was an attempt to break out of the mold.
"We are going to Jamaica to learn from their experiences; Jamaica can teach us much," Brown said before a trip there last year to discuss the project with Corps officials and the country's socialiast leader, Prime Minister Michael Manley.
In addition to the short-term aspect, the project would have differed from othe Peace Corps operations in that participants would have worked primarily for and with a volunteer agency, the Jamaican National Youth Service, of the host country.
According to an ACTION outline, Jamaica was selected "because it was one of the developing nations where new techniques in community mobilization are being tested and where a receptive climate exists for exploring short-term service."
The Jamaican volunteers, about 25 blacks ranging in age from 18 to 26, were to come from Oakland, where they would return to spend one year working in ACTION's domestic volunteerservice program, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America).
According to the ACTION outline, Oakland was chosen becase "it has a receptive political climate, and a meeting of community-based organizations has endorsed the idea." The outline added: "Oakland's problems are typical of the U.S. Yet it is small enough so that it can serve as an approriate laboratory for this pilot project."
The target date for implementation was last February.
But the project never got off the ground, largely because of early opposition from Carter-Miller, backed by Payton. Both are black.
"I did not support the brigade because it was not Philosophically what the Peace Corps was about, nor was it what I was about," Carter-Miller said.
She said she thought the proposal was "just another Sam Brown attempt to make a spalsh and grab headlines."
"I mean, what sense would it make to send in a bunch of inner-city youths to a country where there is already a high incidence of drug use?" Carter-Miller asked rhetorically.
"I just decided that Sam wasn't going to use me to use those kids to make some kind of splash. Then, when the s-hit the fan because of this dumb idea, I was going to have to be lady to hand around and clean it up. I got tired of fighting with him, so I quit."
Payton said she, too, regarded Brown as operating "outside the Peace Corps mandate" by pushing for the Jamaica Bridgade and similar programs. She said she understood Caryer-Miller's "frustration."
Brown refused to comment directly on Carter-Miller or Payton. But close asides said the women were poor administrators, more concerned with protecting their turf from VISTA encroachment than with Brown's alleged elitism in dealing with the Third World, and too inflexible in their interpretation of the Peace Corp's mandate.
Some Brown aides said Carter-Miller had grown "insensitive" in her role as Jamaica Peace Corps director, as evidenced by her home with a swimming pool, servants and a "substantial American car," a Camaro, while in Jamaica.
Her Jamaican life style made Brown "livid," one aide said.
Carter-Miller responded: "Poor Sam. Why does he feel he can live comfortably here while his hard-working country directors live in shack?
"The real issue is that, under Sam, there's nothing happening with the Peace Corps. . . I had a pool, sure I was totally anit-brigade, sure. But both I and my pool have been out of the way for more than a year, and Sam's Peace Corps programs still haven't worked. Tell me why?"