William Miller interviewed by Jim Wurst, August 19, 2014
JAMES WURST: I like to start these interviews with not so much an autobiography, but where your autobiography intersects with UNA. How did you get involved with UNA, what was your story there?
WILLIAM MILLER: I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, in sort of a lower socioeconomic family. My dad was a carpenter. I developed an interest, for some reason, in languages and a fascination of South America. So when I was in college I wanted to join the Peace Corps, because it was a new idea and because I was thoroughly enthralled with John F. Kennedy. I won’t tell you the whole story, but I went into the Peace Corps, went to the Dominican Republic and the first year I worked as a rural community developer in the middle of nowhere, with no running water and no electricity. In the second year I thought of Catholic University of Santiago, the second-largest city in the Dominican Republic. But when I came back right after the Peace Corps, I wanted to go to South America to travel a bit. So I could either get a master’s degree or go to South America; I decided to go to South America, hitchhiked around for a year, came back to Kentucky, got in to graduate school, and after two years, went to work for the state of Kentucky for the Cabinet for Families and Children. After three years of that, I decided it was time to travel again. But in the interim, I wanted to do something. There are three goals of the Peace Corps. The first goal is to go overseas to help people help themselves, and to provide technical assistance. The second goal is to go overseas and help people better understand America. The third goal is to bring that experience home: bring that goal back and share it with people in your city, town, whatever. I really developed a desire to be more involved internationally. So I heard about the United Nations Association; it was a fledgling chapter in Frankfort. I joined that in 1977. Long story short, the guy who ran it was looking for somebody take over as president, so he approached me and asked me if I wanted to be the president. Next day, I foolishly said yes, and the next day I have three boxes of material on my front porch. Congratulations, you got the job by default! Well that started the ball rolling, and then I quit my job and went to Europe for six months, and came back, so it was really around 1979 that I really got the chapter moving. In 1981 I went to the first meeting annual conference in Washington DC and I met people like Elliot Richardson, I think Cy Vance was there, and I thought this is really a great group, very intelligent people there, dealing with these international issues that impact people in Frankfort, Kentucky to Frankfort, Germany. So that’s how I got involved with UNA, and I just got more involved, started learning about United Nations and now today I teach a course on the UN at Kentucky State University, but that’s how that all got started.
JAMES WURST: Now as you said before, you were talking about how you’ve been involved with national chapters? So besides your own chapter, what’s your involvement with chapters nationwide?
WILLIAM MILLER: Oh golly, several activities. Well I was chapter president for several years, I was president of the Kentucky division of the United Nations Associations, which is a statewide UNA operation. I was actively involved leadership corps, which doesn’t exist today, where you had thirteen people who were technical support to our chapters. We broke the country up into thirteen divisions.
JAMES WURST: When was this? That sounds familiar.
WILLIAM MILLER: This was back in, I want to say, the 90s. It was called Leadership Corps. Jim Olson could tell you exactly the dates.
JAMES WURST: That’s it. I didn’t interview him, but one of my colleagues did. He talked about that.
WILLIAM MILLER: He would know that. And Jim Muldoon too, he would know probably. But Olson is more critical. And Laurenti could probably tell you.
JAMES WURST: Okay. Now I’ve interviewed him already, but we didn’t touch on that.
WILLIAM MILLER: Leadership Corps was a major operation, and they need that today. We’re on the CCD steering committee, and I’m in the Mid-East region. I think there are nine regions, or something like that, around the country. Our region consists of DC, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio and Kentucky. So we that divided region up, based on our chapter, so I got the state of Kentucky, since we have 4 chapters in the state of Kentucky.
JAMES WURST: Go on, and tell me again, you said CCD?
WILLIAM MILLER: Yeah, the Council of Chapter Divisions. Now it’s called CCR, Council of Chapter Regions, the steering committee. But they need something like this, because with the technical assistance we are providing today, I don’t think we’re getting skills. Back then, they got some Ford funding. They brought us to New York, trained us, and gave us communication training. We would go through workshops, what have you, and try to hone our skills so we could communicate with our chapter folks and to go back and to help them. I had a huge part of Florida, and I would go to Florida periodically, so I would go down and visit the chapters while I was there on a business trip or something like that. So the idea was to provide technical help and assistance to chapters because a lot of these leaders are not well trained, to be quite honest, like me when I got the job. I heard of the UN, but heard very little about the UNA, virtually nothing. So anyway, that’s how I got involved, but the Leadership Corps was very effective for several years. The money went with the Leadership Corps, so I took care of that.
JAMES WURST: You said you served on the Board of Directors, and other national bodies over the years.
WILLIAM MILLER: When you say national bodies…
JAMES WURST: Well in other words… We are talking about the chapters. You said you were on the Board of Directors, you were on the…
WILLIAM MILLER: The CCDP Steering Committee,
JAMES WURST: So, when were you on the Board of Directors?
WILLIAM MILLER: Oh golly, I don’t know the years to be quite honest.
JAMES WURST: Roughly around the 70s, 80s.
WILLIAM MILLER: Yeah. I probably went on in 85, served off and on until about 94. I was for about two or three years, and I was on until the dissolution of the board. But I was on board for a large swath.
JAMES WURST: And it was dissolved when?
WILLIAM MILLER: Right when they did the merger. That was the Board of Directors.
JAMES WURST: Okay.
WILLIAM MILLER: Then they revised the bylaws, regarding the CCR. Still can’t get that out of my head. Council of Chapters and Regions.
JAMES WURST: So anyway, your time on the Board of Directors. Tell me more about that.
WILLIAM MILLER: Oh, it varies, depending on who was chair of the board, what you had, but you always had policy issues come up, you had personnel issues. When Bill Lure was there, he would always get some high level ambassador, like Tom Pickering, or somebody like that to come in and do an overview, some sort of an update on some hot spot around the world. And that was very incentive because those board meetings would start around 10 o’clock, at the Arthur Ross meeting room at UNA headquarters. And that was a good draw to get these Wall Street types and folks who had busy schedules in. So they would come in for that, we would have our overview sessions, we would have a working lunch, then around 1:00 or 2:00, we would get into the nitty-gritty items, policy decisions or whatever, deal with personnel, because they were gone, they had to get back to work or whatever.
JAMES WURST: And it was not relevant.
WILLIAM MILLER: Exactly, they didn’t have a great interest in that. So anyway, it varied from person to person, but UNA really progressed over the years. There was a marked improvement from when I joined in 1981, when Ratner ran it, to today. Although there a lot of things Lure did I questioned, as well as a lot of other people too. But a lot of what he did was based on where he was getting funding. Like from Merrill Lynch, they were funding this hero program in Africa, what have you, but a lot of people questioned that because its goal. If you talk to UNA people, they might say we still don’t know what we’re about. But we do know what we’re about. The goal of UNA is to help inform the American public about the United Nations and to talk about its effectiveness and ineffectiveness. And you do both, and you create an advocacy group for the United Nations, because the UN, even with imperfections, is indispensable and you’ve got to have the United Nations. Somebody’s got to help move ships, aircraft, mail, and weather information around the world. They have to have peacekeeping missions and the UN is the only game in town, although it is not perfect. So we went through this whole thing with [UNA President William] Luers, he did this rebranding thing, and hired all these consultants, and would never tell us how much we spent on these consultants, but he hired this PR person, tried to hold these focus groups to try and talk about what UNA was about. It’s been the mission of the UNA since it was created and it is the same today.
JAMES WURST: So what year is it we are talking about here?
WILLIAM MILLER: That was probably about the late 90s. He had been there about two years. He was there about 10 years.
JAMES WURST: So then these focus groups and consultants, what were they doing? Did you see results of focus groups?
WILLIAM MILLER: Oh, they developed a whole strategic plan and thing like that, personally, I didn’t see much come out of it to be quite honest. I saw a few more articles, Tom Pickering articles, New York Times, what have you, but it didn’t increase UNA’s visibility too much. That I saw, maybe somebody saw something differently, I don’t know. So it was an interesting era, and of course the chapter people said all along, they needed more funding, and most chapters operate on a shoestring, so they don’t have the money. And so the way dues were broken out, it’s a little more equitable, but still, the chapters could never really generate a lot of income, they had to get external funding, or hold fundraisers, things like that, so that was crucial.
JAMES WURST: What policies that were relevant to the UN did you have involvement in?
WILLIAM MILLER: As far as the board meetings?
JAMES WURST: Yes, but also in general, what UN issues were you involved in?
WILLIAM MILLER: The key input was when they did the Parallel Studies Program. Toby [Gati] could tell you about that. Also, the MIIP, the Multilateral Institution…., it was basically a study group, in fact Jeff Laurenti, he could tell you about that, he and Anne Florini did the briefing books. And that went on, the Frankfort chapter participated in every one of them, and the topic one year could be on the peaceful uses of outer space, or on the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency, just a variety of different topics. The way the chapters worked was they would invite people from the community and get a cross-section of the community, and put together a study group of 25 people with some UNA members, say three or four. They would meet once a week, or once every two weeks, read the briefing books, come together, talk about the policies, and draft recommendations and a hold a press conference to present them to the community, and also mailed the book into the UNA, as well as the recommendations, would run, 12, 14, 16, 18 pages sometimes. And then UNA national would take all the recommendations, get the ideas together, put them in a MIIP report that would go to the President, to the President of the Senate, to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to the Secretary General of the UN, key people like that, for their consideration. So that was one way, that UNA had input into the policies of the United Nations.
JAMES WURST: Where there any policies that you felt resonated with the Secretariat?
WILLIAM MILLER: Well it was hard to say, because I was not around the Secretariat. I was doing my TV show up here, I wasn’t at the UN. There was one suggestion a chapter president made, it was actually incorporated in the NASA space program. I can’t remember what the policy was, I’m trying to remember right now.
JAMES WURST: It had to be about the peaceful uses of outer space.
WILLIAM MILLER: Well it was, but I would have to go back, it was so long ago. This was about 84 or 85. We were all very enthused about it. The Frankfort chapter was singled out as the only one to come out with this proposal. What I should have done, before coming up here, was at least look at this topic.
JAMES WURST: It would be interesting to know what that would be. Because I do have, I think I have all of them, the final results, but what every chapter submitted, I don’t have all of that. There is some material in there is no way to find that because it’s not digitized. So the other thing is, since you have worked both in the chapters and in the national organization, how did you view the relationship between the chapters and the national?
WILLIAM MILLER: Well it depended a lot on who was heading it up, the UNA president at the time. And of course, the field people felt, generally speaking, that they needed more support from national. That was always one of their concerns; they felt they needed more timely membership information, they need a larger cut from the dues, they felt like they would like to see more national people out, and the chapters come visit with them, that type of thing. At times there was a disconnection between the national, and the field; at least the field people saw it that way. I think there was a disconnection, and it locked into how much money they got too. Anyway, it varied from person to person, and during that person’s tenure, like Bill Lurers, he was hot or cold on the issues from time to time, so it really varied.
JAMES WURST: Okay, so I guess we’re at the point of the merger. So you said you didn’t have any direct involvement with that.
WILLIAM MILLER: I was on the board at that time, and the board was basically dissolved, and they still had a small group, executive committee or something like that. Five or six people who were involved. But the guy who came up with this project idea could tell you all about the board, what they were doing. He was the keeper. He was right at the center of it.
JAMES WURST: So basically you were informed of what was going on. You weren’t part of the decision making.
WILLIAM MILLER: We didn’t get a lot of information on it to be quite honest. It was being dealt with by Kathy [Calvin], and some other folks I guess.
JAMES WURST: What did you think of it?
WILLIAM MILLER: I thought it was probably going to have to happen because UNA was bankrupt. We couldn’t operate as we had in the past, and we overextended on all this money. At one point, when Luers came in, we had a $4 million budget, when he was theoretically going to leave it was $10 million, for hero programs and all that. That funding dried up. There was no money. The Adopt A Minefield program, the HERO program, I’m trying to think of what some of the other ones were. They kept the Minefield program for a couple years after, and it may even still be functioning. I’m not sure if it is. I don’t think it’s in the UN Foundation.
JAMES WURST: It’s not in UN Foundation. The pattern I’m finding is that a lot of programs UNA started, after the merger, were taken on by other groups. Most obviously, the AMICC, that still exists, and it’s at Columbia. US-Iran programs went to the Asia Society.
WILLIAM MILLER: Have you talked to John Washburn?
JAMES WURST: He’s on the list. He’s on vacation now.
WILLIAM MILLER: He could tell you not only about AMICC, he could tell you about the merger, because that’s when his office was pushed out, and he had to find a new home. He was also in that office for years and years. He could tell you much more about the recent history. The key is to get people who were on the inside here, like Ed, John, Jeff was gone because he didn’t get funding for the multilateral studies program. John would be really good.
JAMES WURST: What is your sense of membership numbers over the years?
WILLIAM MILLER: Until the resolution about Zionism-as-Racism at the UN, UNA was way up there. It had 60 to 80 thousand members. But after that happened, a lot of people took out their wrath on the UNA, but UNA had nothing to do with it! It wasn’t even in agreement with the resolutions, but people dropped memberships like mad. I think at our low point, we were down to 6 or 8 thousand members. Around the country. It got up to 10 thousand, and right now it’s around 18 thousand. We got Ford Foundation funding, and that worked, we did direct mail outs, we hired people to call,and asked people to join. I remember one time we got back up to 33 thousand.
JAMES WURST: Can you document that number? Six? Because I never saw it that low.
WILLIAM MILLER: It would be, well maybe it didn’t get that, maybe eight. The only way I could do that is if I have a folder, and I have file cabinets full of this junk. I’m thinking about mailing it to UNA. Are they still giving it to Seton Hall?
JAMES WURST: No. You give it directly to Seton Hall.