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Review and Thoughts On The UNA Annual Meeting 2010

June 14, 2010

By Gabriel Levitt,  

from Brooklyn Chapter of the United Nations Association of the USA Blog   

I’m pleased to update you about the UNA-USA 2010 Annual Meeting, which was held in Washington, DC, between June 6-8th. In a nutshell, UNA staff, Chapter and Division leaders, and other UNA members, convened to review UNA-USA’s past and future work, hear from our UN and UNA leaders, attend “workshops” and issue discussions covering core areas of UNA/UN interest, such as UN funding, Millennium Development Goals, UN Human Rights Council, advocacy practices and tips, and much more.

June 8th was “Day on the Hill”, which operated as an extension of the annual meeting, where UNA chapter leaders and members met with their congressional representatives to advocate for stronger US/UN relations and UN system.

Here are the highlights:

UNA-UNF Alliance/Acquisition
The UNA-USA is in discussions with the United Nations Foundation about what they are calling a “strategic alliance” between the two organizations. In fact, the organizational changes are better described by the word acquisition, in that the UNA-USA will become part of UNF’s programs. Under this acquisition, UNA loses its core organizational independence and, to some degree, will be constrained by the UNF’s Board of Directors.  However, the organizational changes are necessary and will likely provide the right conditions for UNA chapters and divisions to do an even better job of educating and raising awareness of, and advocating for, the United Nations. Why? Because the UNF has organizational strength and funding to provide centralized support to the chapters and divisions.

As Chapter president, I support the changes but believe members should closely monitor and review the agreement before it is finalized.  As I understand it, chapters and divisions will be able to vote on the final agreement, which will likely be done through an online medium, but details are few. The UNF is an awesome organization that I strongly support. Operating within the UNF family is a very exciting prospect.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Attended
Without question the main attraction of the conference was a speech given by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday morning. Secretary-General Ki-moon expressed much gratitude for our efforts at educating Americans about the UN and advocating the US government to support the UN. His very presence is testament to our importance to the UN because, as the Secretary General communicated, the UN is truly dependent on US support (which is of course dependent on our efforts!).  For details, I’ll defer to notes published on the UNA-USA site about Secretary-General Ki-moon’s speech.

The Program
If you’re interested to know exactly what was covered during the conference, please see the UN Chapters and Divisions Annual Conference Program 2010. I was most impressed with the potential of the Council of Organizations (CoG) to play a major role in UNA chapter development. Essentially the CoG is a large group of organizations that are members of UNA-USA as “organizations” not individuals. Here is the impressive list of UNA member organizations. Local chapters should ally with their local counterparts among these organizations in their outreach and event planning. In doing so, local chapters will realize a multiplier effect on their efforts!

Advocating – Day on The Hill
One hundred UNA members representing 46 chapters and divisions met with their members of Congress (Senate and House) or their staffs to communicate core advocacy positions of the UNA and others of particular interest to chapters and their members. The core positions for which the UNA provided a “Briefing Paper” were: 1) UN Funding, 2) Support for the Millennium Development Goals, 3) Support for the UN Human Rights Council, 4) Support for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Woman (CEDAW) – Senate Only, 5) New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) – Senate Only, and 6) American Engagement Caucus – House Only.

My meetings were as follows:
1.    A staff member of Congressman Anthony Weiner, accompanying Queens Chapter President Peg Shannon.
2.    A staff member of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), with about seven other New Yorkers.
3.    A staff member of Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), with about seven other New Yorkers.
4.    Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), 12th district, with Peg Shan

My advocacy agenda followed the UNA’s core priorities as identified in its briefing paper.  In brief, the meetings were very inspiring because they represent the heart of the UNA-USA: American citizens going to Capitol Hill to tell their representatives that they deeply believe in the existence and work of the UN and that US support for the UN serves US long-term interests. The more people do this, the more the UN, multilateralism, and international law will move to the center of our foreign policy agenda.

The advocacy highlight for me was definitely meeting face-to-face with my Congresswoman, Nydia Velazquez. The only problem with the meeting is that I talked too much! Congresswoman Velazquez came across as a true champion of the United Nations, communicating that the UN’s issues are “her issues” as well. I’m paraphrasing but her communications were immensely encouraging and even somewhat poetic. I believe that she will again vote for UN funding and the supplemental spending bill that includes 96.5 million for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti and join the American Engagement Caucus. We asked that she write a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, to state her support for the Millennium Development Goals and the to encourage the U.S. to prevent violators of human rights from gaining membership in on the UN Human Rights Council.  We’ll be sure to follow up with her!

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