BY PATRICK BAIRAMIAN AND LARA GARIBIAN
Be the Voice
It’s 9 am on a Friday. I have just tossed my third cup of coffee in the trash bin outside of the Capitol building and I am about to enter into the office of Assemblyman Portantino with three strangers who have become friends in the long hours we spent on the bus ride from Los Angeles to Sacramento.
Before I knock on the solid ten foot oak door towering in front of me, I adjust my black skirt and mechanically brush off non-existent lint from my blazer. “So,” I think to myself, “this is how far we’ve come.” I’m still debating if this is the right choice for me. To be standing in front of this door, with these people, about to enter an office and meet a man who influences the creation of laws and mandates that regulate the American lifestyle I have been afforded by the founding fathers of this nation that I call my home. “We’re going to go in there and what…advocate? How does one advocate?” I attempt to stifle my conscience from straying too far from concentration and not fill my voice with doubt and nervousness before I greet the assembly member. Before I shake off my uncertainty, I reach into my pocket to turn off my phone as to not be interrupted by a vibrating phone call. I have an unread text message. Before I ignore it and turn off my phone, curiosity gets the better of me and I open the text. It’s from Aram Hamparian, one of our leaders in Washington DC, who has been the colossal driving force behind this effort. The text reads short and simply:
“We’re Armenians, and we stand together, as proud sons and daughters of our ancient tribe, in believing in and building a bright and brilliant future for ourselves and all of humanity.”
I smile at the boost of confidence the words have augmented within me. I turn my phone off, smile to my colleagues, and open the door, entering as an advocate.
Activism. Activism. Activism. A message that has been communicated to us for generations by our forefathers, by our families, by our community. But, what does it mean? As an old Armenian saying states: “Let’s sit crooked and talk straight.”
Before anything, take that word: “Activism,” and roll it around on your tongue for a minute. Honestly, what does that mean to you? Not as an Armenian, not as an American, not as an anything, just…what does that mean? Okay, now that you’ve discovered what it means for you, what can you do with it?
Since the Armenian Genocide of 1915, it has been the continuous message of activism and the importance of community participation that has gotten us to achieve such milestones in our fight for recognition, our building of a stronger community, and ensuring a unity remains among the Diaspora of our people. You hear the importance of activism conveyed through our community’s most politically active organization, the Armenian National Committee of America. The ANCA’s successes show their true face when we as a community rallied together to promote the sacred preservation of Armenian churches crumbling in Western Armenia at the hands of the Turkish Government, during the nomination of Azerbaijan’s ambassador Matt Bryza, and countless local campaigns that preserve the very core of what we consider our culture and ethnicity. But what do all of these campaigns mean? Is there message only: “Please donate to our cause?” Do they mean attend “our” events? Is it about networking, creating memories, or just having a good time?
Activism can be all those things, but it’s more. How? Activism is about passion and action. Activism is about unity and progress. It is about reaching out to something that lies at the core of your identity and doing something to strengthen that core and the sum of it’s parts. Activism is about letting your voice be heard not just for yourself, but for your community, your people, the mutual cause, and the change it creates. To be the change that you want to see in the world, as Gandhi – the world’s greatest advocate – said, we can no longer claim to be “involved.” An activist is a humanitarian, not for one cause, but for equal justice among all people. He is he, she is she, and in activism, there is no difference. We are that particle of light that streams through the darkness, never abandoning hope in place of fatigue or failure. We do not falter, and although in our battles we may be challenged endlessly; and our faith in the cause may be questioned, we, as an advocate never allow doubt to supersede the message of equality, and human justice to which we have allied our core values with. Be the change, don’t settle for superficial advocacy. Be the voice of your community, for our ranks need leaders indeed! Unite with your people, yet more importantly, allow for the people that are in your grasp to unite with each other and be the cause as one.
My first experience of attending the California Advocacy Day was something that shaped my definition of activism greatly. I volunteered endless hours emailing the offices of Assembly members and State Senators to arrange meetings so that our community members would have the ability to meet and speak to their community leaders about what issues were current and important to them. I remember being awake until three in the morning along side my friend and partner in organizing this event, and wanting to make sure that each constituent was fully prepared for their meetings and the day ahead. I also remember the flood of self doubt that accompanied my own responsibilities as a team leader. However, in the end, I realized how much I valued the entire experience and the confidence it gave me to continue being active. I realized my definition of activism was to make sure I was heard and to realize that my participation, whether I was new to the game or not, was making a difference on an individual and community level. I understood the power one voice carried.
However, it was up to me to take those risks and involve myself in something at such a large level.
The forum to be heard and the opportunities to be active are ever present. Take this opportunity and be the activist by taking part in this year’s Advocacy Day on April 15th. Join the Armenian National Committee of America and represent your community. Represent your cause. Represent your needs and your identity! Let your local and State officials see who you are and that you matter, that your people matter, that your community matters. And along the way, make those memories, meet new people, build and strengthen your connections, and above all else, take action!
Those interested in attending should register at itsmyseat.com/ancawr. Registration includes transportation to and from Sacramento and hotel accommodations. Space is limited. If you have questions regarding accommodations or any other details, please contact ANCA-WR External Affairs Deputy Tereza Yerimyan, at (818) 500-1918 or [email protected]
The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.