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UNA Brooklyn Meets Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (NY-11)

November 1, 2010

By Gabriel Levitt, Brooklyn Chapter President, from

As part of our Advocacy Program, UNA Brooklyn Chapter members Peg Byron and Gabriel Levitt met with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke at her office in Ditmas Park on October 26th. Congresswoman Clarke was joined by staff members Anita Taylor (District Director) and Veronica Aveis. Our main goal was to introduce the UNA and our Brooklyn Chapter to Congresswoman Clarke, listen to her thoughts and positions on the UN and related issues, and create a foundation for an ongoing relationship to advance support for the UN. I believe we were successful.

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke with UNA Brooklyn Chapter members Peg Byron, left, and Gabriel Levitt, right

Peg Byron began the meeting with general introductions and by recounting what motivated her to join the UNA. Byron emphasized the UN’s good works in improving global health and development efforts geared toward women as core motivations for joining the UNA. This focus is very much in line with Congresswoman’s Clarke’s own interests demonstrated by her lead sponsorship of the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2010, which serves to revise existing legislation to bring the U.S. in line with international standards that can improve the global delivery of health services to women.

Gabriel Levitt provided an overview on the UNA and its programs, highlighting its history as our country’s bedrock of support for the United Nations and force to combat reactionary ideologies that promote unilateralism and disdain for international organizations. Levitt emphasized the importance of the grassroots make-up of the UNA as a membership-based organization consisting of about 130 chapters and divisions with over 10,000 members nationally.

Congresswoman Clarke showed a deep concern for and interest in a variety of global issues, including the natural disaster in Haiti and war in Afghanistan, the economic development and concerns of small island nations, and, as mentioned above, global women’s health issues. As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Congresswoman Clarke is chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, Science and Technology. Her committee efforts focus on domestic preparedness for attacks on the United States, but also on larger issues relating to combating terrorism. We pointed out that efforts at the UN include building a global consensus for fighting terrorism, enshrined in former Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Uniting Against Terrorism: Recommendations for a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

In our discussions, it was clear, in a very pragmatic manner, that an ongoing relationship between Congresswoman Clarke and the UNA Brooklyn Chapter could be mutually beneficial. She communicated the challenges of having to consider and vote on legislation affecting wide-ranging foreign and defense policy matters without having as much time and information as she would like. We communicated our desire to serve as a resource on UN and global affairs issues and have already undertaken to provide her office with some background information about current or potential UN actions affecting small island nations and plans for Afghanistan’s economic development.

In turn, we spoke about our chapter’s plans for 2011 and invited Congresswoman Clarke to participate in UNA Brooklyn Chapter events. As Congresswoman Clarke has worked to help and is highly concerned about Haiti, we’re very much hoping she will join us for our 2011 event to focus on the UN’s role in Haiti. Also, having the congresswoman speak at or even just attend our “Brooklyn Celebrates the UN” event, planned for UN Day 2011 would lend the event greater prestige.

For those of you following this blog and the work of the chapter over the past year, you may have noticed that we did not focus on our core advocacy agenda in our meeting with Congresswoman Clarke. At the suggestion of board member Cristina Grisham, who was instrumental in planning the meeting, we eschewed a rigid advocacy focus and, after introducing the UNA and Brooklyn Chapter, turned the meeting into a more open discussion about the UN, global affairs, and U.S. foreign policy. Our approach, as I see it, enabled us to strongly communicate the importance of the UNA and the Brooklyn Chapter. In return, we went away with a far greater understanding and appreciation for the work of Congresswoman Clarke as it relates to foreign policy in the context of how to continue our relationship to further advocate for the UN.

Please rest assure that we did bring up the basic points of our agenda, and emphasized the UNA’s laser-like focus on publicizing and advocating for the Millennium Development Goals, not to mention full funding for the UN, and unsigned or unratified treaties, such as the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, among others. We also left behind a strong two-page overview of our core advocacy issues and will submit more issue briefs and action points as a follow-up to our meeting.

Congresswoman Clarke’s interest and enthusiasm were clear from the outset of the meeting and it’s not far-reaching to write that we’ll definitely be working with the Congresswoman in the near future. Finally, Congresswoman Clarke eloquently described, discussed and was proud of the diversity of the 11th district, which includes African-American, Caribbean, East European, Haitian, Hispanic, Indian, Jewish, and Pakistani communities (sorry if I forgot one). And that is very meaningful to our chapter. We find ourselves in a real global village right here in Brooklyn, which is fertile ground to rally around and support the work of the United Nations. It’s our hope that we do so in a continuing alliance with Congresswoman Clarke.

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