This week marks a fresh start for our nation. Whatever one##s political leanings, each presidential inauguration is an opportunity for Americans to renew the energy required to deal with the challenges we face — never more so than when the challenges we face are without precedent.
Over the course of their transition, President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden have spoken with confidence and acted with competence. They##ve unveiled their plans for governing — plans that recognize it will require federal money to solve our economic problems at home, and diplomatic and military skill to meet our obligations abroad.
But they also realize an equally important truth. While government has a role to play in restoring the American dream at home and rekindling the dream that is America abroad, there are limits to its ability to restore our sense of purpose as a nation. That task falls to us. Particularly in hard times like these, we are charged with living up to our shared responsibility to one another.
My experience is that in times of need, the American people recognize that when one of our fellow citizens is suffering, those of us with the power to ease or eliminate that suffering should come forward. This is not a time to retreat to our homes and wait until it##s safe to emerge. It is the time to give more, to step forward and serve our fellow citizens, and to reach into the reservoir of this nation##s unrivaled capacity for good.
That##s why, at this moment of great purpose, Mr. Obama has chosen the eve of his inauguration to launch “Renew America Together,” his call for all Americans to make an ongoing commitment to better the lives of others in their communities and their country. It##s fitting that he will do this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day when we honor the legacy of a man who lived his life in service to others and believed that “everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.”
That##s the beautiful simplicity of service. When I was a young man, I chose to devote my life to serving my country. I spent decades under her flag as a soldier, and later as a diplomat. In my time as a private citizen, my wife, Alma, and I have made service a part of our lives by founding “America##s Promise,” an alliance that connects our young people to mentors who teach them the skills they need to grow.
Each of these mentors proves that King was right. You don##t have to wear the uniform of this country to serve others. You don##t have to work in government. And you don##t have to start a foundation. At a time when so many of our countrymen are in need, everyone has the power to help.
Pause for a moment, and ask yourself what you can contribute to the life of this nation. Perhaps you can find an hour each week to volunteer in a soup kitchen or help a child learn to read. Maybe you and your friends can spare an afternoon a month to clean up your local park or prepare care packages for our soldiers stationed in far-flung corners of the globe.
With our hectic lives, it might seem daunting to find convenient means of serving others in a way that matters to you. That##s why Mr. Obama##s team has unveiled an exciting new tool to facilitate that connection.
USAservice.org is an online community that makes service easy and accessible. Even amidst the busiest of schedules, there is always a moment to log on and find a cause you care about in your own community. It##s also easy for organizers to post and publicize projects. Already, Americans have used USAservice.org to create more than 5,000 events across the country.
What these participants will discover, if they haven##t already, is that service is a two-way street of mutual benefit. By enriching the lives of others, you get back more than you give.
Barack Obama is asking us to join him on Monday in making a renewed and enduring commitment to enriching the lives of others. If we answer that call, I have every confidence that we as a people will ignite a new national sense of purpose necessary to meet the great need of this hour.
Mr. Powell was secretary of state (2001-2005) under President George W. Bush. The Wall Street Journal