WASHINGTON–Armenian National Committee of America Leo Sarkisian Internship participants joined with Greek American interns, yesterday, in a roundtable discussion with Representatives Niki Tsongas (D-MA-5), John Sarbanes (D-MD-3) and Zack Space (D-OH-18) to gain first-hand insight on their experience in Congress.
During the hour-long session, organized by the Hellenext Organization, Greek American Representatives Sarbanes, Space and Tsongas, who describes herself as "Greek by osmosis," answered a myriad of questions on a broad range of issues from their day-to- day activities in Congress to more ethnically sensitive issues.
ANCA Leo Sarkisian intern Rita Astoor poignantly asked "Does it become more difficult, after coming to the Hill, to continue to meet expectations from the ethnic community?" Rep. Sarbanes spoke eloquently about the sharing of information among Representatives about issues of personal importance to them, essentially becoming a "repository of information" on key concerns. He added that ethnic communities value their efforts and are proud of the successes of Representatives of shared ancestry.
In response to a question regarding challenges to women in politics, Rep. Tsongas summarized her motivation to run for office with "Women won’t win if women don’t run." As a person who has spent her whole life among people in public service?her father was in the Air Force, and her husband, the late Paul Tsongas, was a House Member, a Senator, and later ran for President ? moving into the public eye herself was not as difficult for her as it may be for others. In fact, she was surprised by the ease of the actual act of voting, and said that she, and other members of Congress must "always remind ourselves never to make it too easy" and to remember the millions of people that they affect with each vote. In office for only nine months, after winning a special election, her first vote was to override the President’s veto of children’s health insurance. Among her first actions was to cosponsor the Armenian Genocide resolution, (H.Res.106), an issue she feels passionately about.
Rep. Sarbanes, in office for 17 months, also comes from a family deeply involved in politics. His father, Paul Sarbanes was a US Senator representing Maryland from 1977-2007, and an outspoken leader on Greek and Armenian American concerns. He commented that an advantage of living in Maryland is the ability to go home every night, which helps keep him in touch with his family and his constituency.
Rep. Zack Space, who rushed to the event following a town hall meeting-by-phone with his constituents gave fascinating insight about his district in Southern Appalachian Ohio. He spoke of the hardships facing his district, including high unemployment and poverty, and the importance of his Greek culture and Greek Orthodox faith to taking on these challenges.
The Hellenext Organization, which hosted the "Master Class on Capitol Hill," runs a variety of programs to help the young men and women of the next generation prepare to face the great challenges that lie ahead of them. For more information on the Hellenext Organization, visit www.hellenext.org.
The ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Program, now in its 24th year, is an eight week intensive program designed to give student leaders and activists the tools necessary to effectively advance Armenian American concerns on campus and in their communities. It is an integral part of the ANCA Capital Gateway program, a year-round internship / job placement service which provides Armenian Americans greater opportunities to explore careers on Capitol Hill, in the U.S. Foreign Service and key Washington, DC foreign policy think tanks.