BY HOVANES GASPARIAN
UC-Berkeley, Class of 2009
Even before arriving in Washington, DC, I knew that calling your Representative’s office to voice your concerns — whether it is on Armenian American issues or any other matter — is a very effective way to to call attention to an issue that you care about. There is an unwritten hierarchy of outreach efficacy – with the call being the most immediate, then the handwritten letter, the printed form letter, the personalized email and, finally, the form-letter email.
However, above all of this is the personal meeting – in Washington DC or the district – with the Member of Congress or Congressional staff. And unlike calls, letters and emails, preparation for a meeting is a completely different story.
Over the past several weeks, my fellow Leo Sarkisian Interns and I have been meeting with staffers from various Congressional offices urging them to cosponsor House Resolution 252, the Armenian Genocide resolution. Previously, I had attended other meetings with legislative assistants, for example, but always with a member of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) staff. However, after we spoke with the ANCA’s Executive Director Aram Hamparian and went through training and role plays with our coordinator Garo Manjikian, the time had come to fly solo.
My first meeting alone with a Congressional staffer was nerve-racking to say the least. I had done my research, both on the Representative and the topic, so I knew I was prepared. The staffer was friendly and the meeting went well. We went through the main issues of the Genocide resolution and discussed the broad spectrum of support for the legislation.
Since then it has gotten easier, and I’ve learned a few things:
1. Some staffers are more informed than others. Some of my fellow interns reported that they came across staff who had no clue about the legislation, let alone the Armenian Genocide. These meetings — in the district or in Washington DC – are an excellent educational tool on the topic of the Armenian Genocide and genocide in general. Staff change in these Congressional offices on a regular basis. There is always a learning curve – on any issue – so consistent follow up is key.
2. The Genocide deniers have become more aggressive in their activities on Capitol Hill. Some staff have even told us that they have received calls and letters in opposition to H. Res. 252. Whether a Member of Congress is supportive or opposes Armenian Genocide legislation, we need to continue to make our voices heard – phoning, emailing, writing, even setting up personal meetings. The Turkish Government is paying big money to lobby firms in the U.S. to deny the Genocide – and some firms are even instructed to advise Turkish American groups on an “informal” basis on how to oppose this legislation. That’s grassroots training on the Turkish Government’s dime. So we have to remain vigilant.
After the 10th meeting, you come to a realization. Through those 20 minutes with the Congressional staffer, I was contributing to furthering Hai Tahd, the Armenian Cause. It required preparation, but it wasn’t rocket science. Political apathy is far too prevalent.
Before this internship started, I knew that my fellow interns and I would be working at the epitome of grassroots activism. Looking back at the past eight weeks, I am only now realizing the full impact of our efforts. During our time here we launched an ongoing campaign on a multi-national, multi-billion dollar corporation (Chevron). We called thousands of constituents as well as their respective congressional offices. We met with various Congressional leaders as well as their legislative assistants, legislative directors, and even chiefs of staff. Our Summer 2009 Leo Sarkisian Internship class of seven interns managed to accomplish so much in so little time. I can only imagine what kind of potential impact we can have on Hai Tahd if we increased Armenian-American community participation in the political process even more. If we inspired a larger portion of the community to do what our interns did this summer – in their home towns. I have seen the direct impact of our community’s efforts this past summer unfold right before my eyes. Our actions DO make a difference.
The saying goes, “If you want something done right, you must do it yourself.” As cliché as that might sound, this internship and this organization have made me realize not only how true that statement is, but also how synergistic the combined efforts of even a few grassroots activists can be. Now multiply those efforts by 100, 1000, 10,000, or 100,000.
So get off your couch and get involved. It’s as easy as an email, fax, phone call or. . . meeting with your Representative.