By Tino Calabia, July 2014
THE HISTORY of what many members casually call “UNA-USA” starts mainly with the work of “LNA,” “CSOP,” and “AAUN” – shorthand for organizations that can be traced back to the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. Their formal names are, of course, the League of Nations Association, the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, and the American Association for the United Nations that in 1964 became the United Nations Association of the United States of America.
But UNA-USA’s history as an organization is really the story of its volunteers and staff: women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Dorothy Robins-Mowry, Toby Gati, Alma Morrison, and men like Clark Eichelberger, Elliott Richardson, John Whitehead, Thomas Pickering, Steve Dimoff, Jim Olson, Larry Levine, plus thousands of their colleagues across the nation from the past to the present. Down through the decades, under one banner they have all marched in support of the United Nations and America’s role in the UN.
Another way of thinking about it is this: at the ground-breaking 1945 San Francisco Conference, a dust-up broke out over a draft of the Preamble to the UN Charter. Finally U.S. delegate Virginia Gildersleeve, a professor of literature, picked up the pieces and started with the words “We, the peoples of the United Nations….”
In the same spirit, all the members named in this history and many, many others can be thought of as: “We, the people of the United Nations Association of the USA,” for this is the story of those who shaped its proud history, those whose dreams of peace, security, and human rights have aspired to a UN worthy of their constant struggle to strengthen and improve it.
No key organizers or advocates from the earliest years of LNA, CSOP, AAUN, and UNA-USA are known to have survived into the 21st Century. But foremost in renown during the 20th Century’s middle years was Eleanor Roosevelt. Before she died in 1962, she served as the first US Representative to the UN General Assembly and later as a fulltime volunteer with UNA-USA. The Website of UNA-USA notes simply that when Roosevelt
…completed her term as a US representative to the UN General Assembly in late 1951, she walked into the association’s offices and asked for something to do. Her offer was gratefully accepted, [and soon began] a major campaign in which Mrs. Roosevelt carried the message of the American Association for the United Nations across the country through personal appearances, recruitment speeches and fund-raising efforts that continued until her death in November 1962.
Both before the Roosevelt era and into the early 1960s, many others of her generation laid the groundwork for what today is UNA-USA. Naturally after the passage of so many decades, few remained when interviewers were at work on this history. Most researchers focusing on the subject must sift through thousands of documents stored in the UNA-USA official archives at Seton Hall University, in the New York Public Library, and in other depositories. And yet, fortunately two veterans active in the 1940s were available to be interviewed for this and other chapters of the history.
A CROSS-SECTION of 13 grassroots members and headquarters staff active in UNA-USA’s recent eras also shared their views about events and issues and offered suggestions for enhancing UNA-USA’s work. At the same time, many added color, personality, and a sense of just how it felt to serve in one of America’s biggest membership organizations – if not the biggest – devoted to international relations.
At times, they seemed to radiate the joy they had often felt in their work. Eyes practically lit up when Dorothy Robins and Gillian Sorensen began to talk about their speaking tours around the US. Regarding their appearances at chapter meetings or other events in the field, Jeffrey Laurenti and James Olson described their travels on behalf of UNA-USA as among their most cherished memories. Liuba Grechen Shirley marveled at how one chapter member reduced her travel costs by driving her around Southern California for two weeks while other members welcomed her to overnight in their homes.
From coast to coast, others contributing to this history range from volunteer Janice G. Hunt, a former Board President of UNA-Greater Boston as well as a former Board Secretary of UNA-USA, to volunteer Larry Levine, a former President of UNA-Monterey Bay and also a former UNA-USA Board member, plus several local volunteers and staffers active between the coasts.
Some had first participated as students in Model UN programs. Three served in the Peace Corps; three, at the State Department. Two retired from the UN. Among those recruited to work on staff at UNA-USA Headquarters in Manhattan, a few actually started their service as chapter volunteers. Thus, they constitute a cross-section, a small gallery of internationally-minded Americans, with a few able to contribute their views gained both at the grassroots level and at the level of UNA-USA Headquarters.
DOROTHY ROBINS-MOWRY, now entering her mid-90s, spoke in an interview about her studies at Wooster College where she came across papers by the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace (CSOP) while majoring in international relations. A Brooklyn native, upon graduation from Wooster College, she returned to New York and began job-hunting. Robins would eventually earn a PhD, author books including one on the UN and two separate books about Japan, and become a Foreign Service Officer, yet starting out, she encountered what confronted many women seeking work in the 1940s: knowledge-based jobs were seemingly to be filled by men.
Failing to find work at CSOP and also at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), she was, nevertheless, at least able to speak with the director of CFR’s Studies Program, Percy Bidwell. “He couldn’t have been nicer,” recalled Robins. “He told me to do two things: take a secretarial course and start on your graduate studies at Columbia. And I did both things.”
Yet moments after hearing Bidwell’s advice, Robins noticed that the building’s elevator went up to the offices of the American Association for the UN (eventually renamed UNA-USA). There she spoke with Education Director Frances Thomas whose responsibilities included organizing writing contests for high school students. Though unable to hire Robins then, Thomas offered her an opportunity to review the contest entries. In due course, Robins was hired to work on, for example, the organization’s Model League of Nations program, the precursor to today’s Model United Nations program. Robins was later promoted to be AAUN’s Education Director.
After earning her Master’s at Columbia University, Robins took up studies at New York University and based her PhD dissertation on what she had witnessed at AAUN. She subsequently drew upon her dissertation to author Experiment in Democracy: the Story of the Citizen Organizations in Forging the Charter of the United Nations that was published in 1971. It details the work of among others, Clark Eichelberger, the skilled organizer who rallied prominent individuals and organizations to push for the creation of the UN and have it agree to take up the mission of pursuing global human rights. They also persuaded the UN to recognize a role for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in its deliberations.
Besides elaborating on the preparations she knew about during the time leading up to the 1945 San Francisco Conference when the UN was formally created, Robins shared with her interviewers various later experiences. They included joyful times in which she assisted Roosevelt with Roosevelt’s tours representing UNA-USA and also Robins’ own wide travels advocating for the UN, an experience that she related with great fondness, a feeling shared elsewhere below when others recounted similar UNA-USA travels.
JAMES F. LEONARD was also available for an interview. Now in his mid-90s, Leonard spoke of his career beginning as a young Foreign Service Officer in the late 1940s. Over two decades later, in 1973, he was appointed UNA-USA’s Vice-President for Policy Studies as the UNA-USA Parallel Studies program was being readied for launching.
In 1974, he became President of UNA-USA while the “Zionism-Is-Racism” resolution was still percolating among UN subcommittees. The resolution became a front-burner issue when PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, armed with a belted pistol in plain sight, raised the subject during his November 1974 address to the UN General Assembly. Leonard recalled that the controversial resolution inflamed the anger of Israel and Israel’s supporters and negatively affected UNA-USA’s funding, probably also leading to the sharp drop in UNA-USA’s membership. [ADD …]
Four years afterwards, President Jimmy Carter nominated Leonard to become Ambassador and Deputy US Representative to the United Nations. Much later, in the mid-’90s, Leonard was recruited by the UNA-USA Board to serve as its Acting President.
LAWRENCE V. LEVINE has played key chapter- and National Board roles after much earlier beginning his interest in international affairs and the UN during his teen years. In fact, he served as a high school Model UN club president for three years, became a foreign exchange student, and was later selected to serve as a UN Intern in the UN Secretariat itself, the only undergrad with 49 other students from graduate schools worldwide. At Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, he majored in public and international affairs and also spent a summer as a business exchange student in Italy. A Peace Corps Volunteer in the early 1960s, he later directed an antipoverty NGO in America’s rural south.
Levine stated that in 1999, the UNA-Monterey Bay Chapter he chaired – some years, one of the three biggest in the US despite Monterey Bay’s population base of only 425,000 – became “the first to successfully conclude an Adopt-a-Minefield Campaign to raise $35,000 to sponsor” clearing of landmines in a Bosnian village, said Levine. In 2004, the Chapter concluded a similar campaign for an Afghanistan locality.
The Chapter usually organized six annual events with each averaging an attendance of about 225 people. Holding its own International Women’s Day dinner and cosponsoring a Human Rights Day luncheon, it also supported Model UN clubs at the middle school, high school, and college level. Every autumn for 15 years, it has put on an international documentary film festival “to educate and inspire our diverse community about global social, environmental, and security issues, bringing together our internationalist community in a great spirit.” Each festival has even generated profits from $2,000 to as much as $5,000.
Regarding membership, Levine served on the chapter and Headquarters four-person team that in 2008 produced Sharing Experiences: Learning from Each Other, a 155-page document. It describes 36 best practices ranging from staging effective events to fundraising and financial management. Levine’s section on membership explains how to recruit new members, attract younger members, and pursue membership renewals.
The best practices document itself notes that over several years UNA-Monterey Bay boosted its membership from slightly more than 100 dues-paying members to almost 800. At Chapter events, as many as 65 new members joined “on the spot, with another 20 percent of that or more coming in by mail over the two weeks following the event.”
In a related “best practice” in the guide, Levine explains how to implement the kind of film festival and recruitment event that UNA-Monterey Bay has mastered. Each film session is introduced with a substantive discussion about the UN and UNA-USA’s work and adds “a strong membership recruitment message.” Membership forms are stapled to the program, and attendees are encouraged to sign up at the membership table during intermission and after the film.
Like a few others from the field, Levine also served on the UNA-USA National Board after chapter members gained representation there. In 2008, he chaired both its Chapter Relations Committee and eventually the Working Group that paved the way for integrating the UNA-USA membership and chapter systems into the UN Foundation.
In 2009, staff reductions led to a decision by Headquarters managers to scrap the coming biennial National Convention. Levine recalls that the decision triggered conflict and divisiveness within the National Board. Finally, promising to work strictly without pay, Levine offered to coordinate all activities necessary to put it on. His offer was accepted, and, as Levine recounts it, the Convention took place “with lower expenses and fees, even turning a modest profit.”
Levine mentioned among his most gratifying accomplishments his having “taken over the leadership of a quite small and tired UNA chapter and playing a key roll in building it into one of the largest and most active” in the US. Moreover, he fondly looked back upon his “founding and developing over 13 years our local International Film Festival…now continuing without my involvement, led by a committee of volunteers who became involved while I was leading it.”
KATY HANSEN, as a college sophomore, traveled in Europe and, after graduating, took part in a student exchange program. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria in 1967-68 and spent a school year in Uganda in 1976-77. After returning to the US, she helped to organize the National Peace Corps Association that became established in 1979. Hansen joined UNA-Iowa in the 1980s, served as its Executive Director from 1996 to 2009, and is currently on its Board of Directors. She is also President of UNA-Johnson County.
As did Larry Levine, Hansen served on the four-person team that produced the 2008 Sharing Experiences best practices document described above. She contributed two entries including “Advocacy on UN-Related Issues,” one purpose of which is to recruit new members and retain the involvement of all members. As a practice, the UNA-Iowa division and UNA-Linn County “make a concerted effort to write, call, and meet with members of Congress. They also work to get letters to the editor and guest columns and editorial published in local newspapers.”
For example, during monthly meetings of UNA-Linn County, members have written to their Congressional delegation in support of legislation and funding for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and before critical votes have called their Senators and Representatives to support MDG. They have also met with Presidential candidates who were campaigning in the important electoral state of Iowa.
Hansen herself established a relationship with the editorial editor of the Des Moines Register and has periodically authored guest columns in that paper and in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Other members have pressed for Senate ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Packets of information about such advocacy measures are given to each new member recruited locally.
During Hansen’s long involvement, the full range of UNA-Iowa’s activities has included education programs such as one-day sessions about the UN for junior high school students, Model UN at the University of Iowa, and a Youth Symposium held at the Des Moines Statehouse. UNA-Iowa’s membership reached its peak during the earliest days of the UN, much before Hansen joined. Its steady decline afterwards occurred as those first members began aging and dying. Citing the classic sociological study Bowling Alone that traces Americans’ drifting away from social and civic engagement, Hansen also acknowledged that her Division and Chapter have been unsuccessful in attracting younger members.
She said that UNA-USA Headquarters’ past contribution towards helping in terms of membership was by providing expert speakers. However, having speakers is “not the best model for engaging local participation anymore. People get their information on the Internet, not from experts brought to local events.”
In contrast, Hansen observed that UNA-USA’s Day on Capitol Hill remains positive – successful for advocacy and fulfilling for the participants. New members find “the national conferences rewarding for a few years” although it is expensive for some. Looking back, she described her most gratifying experiences to have been those when she took part in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the 1996 Habitat Conference in Istanbul, the 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summit, and the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.
Hansen suggested that a role for UNA-USA Headquarters might be to facilitate arrangements for local members to attend UN events such as its large or small meetings in New York and even its major conferences around the world.
If the national helped grassroots people to attend these meetings, they would become members for life. But the national has never been interested in coordinating travel and stays for chapter people. Once in a while a chapter has done it through a travel agency. The national could also hire a travel agency to do it.
Hansen managed the logistics to enable student groups to attend the UN conferences in Johannesburg and Copenhagen. She acknowledged that “It is not easy trying to figure out the basics of travel and hotels along with the complexities of the UN requirements for registration.” Still, such assistance from UNA-USA Headquarters could well payoff in terms of attracting and retaining members.
JAMES OLSON gained UNA-USA chapter experience as a top official stretching back to 1974 in Florida and New York State and is now President of UNA-USA’s Iowa Division. He has also served on staff as National Field Director, then Vice President for National Programs at UNA-USA headquarters.
His interest in international affairs began in 1959 during a week-long visit to the UN in Manhattan while he was a high school junior. That was “when I ‘caught the bug’,” said Olson. Yet he only joined a local UNA-USA chapter after a colleague, the founder of UNA-Jacksonville, asked him to sign up. “I joined because I was asked – a basic truth that I believe is the key to membership growth,” he stressed.
Looking back over 40 years of UNA-USA activities, Olson said his most gratifying activities occurred in the years when he presided over UNA-Jacksonville, and foreign dignitaries such as Iranian Princess Ashraf Pahlavi came to address 500 attendees, while ambassadors representing India, Australia, and Liberia made similar appearances on other UN Days. President Carter’s mother, Lillian Carter, who had gained international recognition working as a Peace Corps Volunteer nurse in India in her late 60s, launched the Chapter’s observance of the 1979 International Year of the Child.
Employed afterwards at the national UNA-USA level, Olson enjoyed organizing the annual meetings of the Council of Chapter and Division Presidents held in cities across the nation. Other yearly high points came upon the bestowing of the Arnold Goodman Awards for meritorious service at the chapter level. Olson dubbed them “the UNA Oscars” with the awards ceremony often occurring in conjunction with the UNA-USA Day of lobbying Congress.
Olson estimated that membership may have reached a peak of roughly 30,000 in the late 1960s and early 1970s prior to his tenure. He noted that Eleanor Roosevelt made membership a priority, even giving speeches around the country for which the ticket of admission was becoming a member. During Olson’s tenure at UNA-USA, about 15,000 members belonged to 165 chapters and divisions, fluctuating and then declining to that number into the earliest years of the 21st Century. He attributed the decline to such factors as:
1) the UN was oversold in its early years and disillusionment set in when high expectations were not realized;
2) many Americans viewed the UN as hostile to US interests, especially when decolonization created a developing world majority among UN members;
3) during the Vietnam War, the UN appeared irrelevant in world affairs, even among its supporters;
4) the adoption of resolutions in the General Assembly and at other UN bodies which contained Zionism-Equals-Racism language drove away the Jewish constituency, a major loss of leadership and funds;
5) women went to work and had less time to devote to volunteer activities;
6) UNA-USA had to compete with many other organizations and causes; and
7) new sources of information (most recently the Internet) reduced the value of UNA-USA and its programs – national and local – as a source of information.
To maintain and even grow membership across the country, expensive experiments using direct mail and solicitation through “phonathons” yielded some short-terms gains but did not result in many of the new enrollees continuing their memberships. In the 1990s, attempts were made to establish a network of high school and campus groups, but achieving continuity and developing leadership among the groups proved difficult. The membership dues were later restructured to offer an introductory fee, a limited-income fee, and a student fee while the basic dues of the late 1980s were stabilized at its current rate of $40.
The stabilization occurred after UNA-USA had pressed for increases that ran into stiff opposition from chapter-level members. The latter argued that higher dues would result in driving away new members. Agreeing with their argument, Olson added that “Many national conventions in the 1970s and early- to mid-1980s were marred by acrimonious sessions when the dues issue was debated.”
In 1988 and through the 1990s, awards were made to the chapters and divisions whose membership had grown by at least 10 percent. Olson concluded that “The most spectacular membership growth occurred in those chapters where one person worked tirelessly day-in and day-out on membership.” Examples that Olson mentioned included UNA-Monterey Bay, Larry Levine; UNA-Pasadena, Rene Wilson; and UNA-Cedar Rapids, Mary Alice Erickson.
Olson added that many on staff and among volunteers hoped that the pool of Model UN students and their parents might become members. Olson said, “It seemed logical, but mostly did not happen.” In an aside, he noted his “theory that MUN [the Model UN program] is wonderful in teaching public speaking, research, leadership, learning about other countries, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes – but does not do much, ironically, to build knowledge of the UN or the US role in the UN. I have a hunch that the general vague positive feeling about the UN in this country is a result, in part, of the fact that many bright people were MUNers in their youth. But that does not mean that they are attracted to UNA-USA.” He acknowledged that his views on the Model UN program are “heretical,” yet he agreed that “MUN is great – but not because it generates members for UNA-USA.”
In the 1990s, along with striving to increase membership numbers and attract younger generations, Student Alliance groups were started to attract youths in high schools and colleges while UNA chapters in New York City and Washington created Young Professionals in International Cooperation (YPIC) groups. Efforts were made to expand the YPIC program nationwide, yet even as the expansion began, said Olson, “One perplexing challenge was how do we link or integrate these student and young professionals groups with our chapters, most of whose members were one or two generations older than the youth?” He feels that the challenge has yet to be fully solved.
At the same time, Olson believes that to sustain or boost membership UNA-USA Headquarters might aid chapters and divisions to:
A. Develop an online, real-time computer application that enables chapters/divisions to access their membership lists immediately;
B. Related point: straighten out the membership records system and get membership renewals on a systematic basis (currently it seems helter-skelter);
C. Minimize or eliminate blast e-mails soliciting funds from local members for UNF and its myriad campaigns. This is very confusing and irritating to local members and “competes” with local fundraising;
D. Continue and expand national programs such as [the 2013] Millennium Development Goals consultations. The grant and support we got here in Iowa was very much appreciated;
E. Consider reinstating a paper publication (newsletter or magazine) sent to all members.
Besides addressing membership matters, Olson noted two unique local education and outreach activities. Many chapters and divisions rented storefronts that doubled both as centers of information about the UN and also as UNICEF gift stores. A few California chapters (Pacific LA, Pasadena, East Bay, San Diego, Orange County, Mid-Peninsula, and Santa Barbara) did so as well as UNA-St. Louis, UNA-Minnesota, UNA-Greater Lansing (Michigan), and UNA-NCA. Such enterprises provided visibility and a source of income for chapters and divisions.
Olson believed that a few of the storefronts may still survive, while others were driven out of business by high rents, a dwindling supply of volunteers, competition from stores like Pier One, and the decision by the US Committee [now Fund] for UNICEF to sell UNICEF cards only in commercial outlets. That decision was made despite the fact that at one time, UNA-USA chapter stores generated more money for UNICEF than did any other NGOs. Olson noted that the change in UNICEF policy became “deeply hurtful to UNA-USA volunteers, reducing some – literally – to tears.”
A second education activity took place in Iowa prior to Olson’s arrival there. The UNA-Iowa Division organized delegations to attend several UN conferences including the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the 1995 Womens Conference in Beijing. Upon returning home, the delegates arranged follow-up educational events across Iowa. In 1992, UNA-Iowa even succeeded in having the Governor of Iowa sign “Earth Charter Iowa” which applied the principles of sustainable development in the state.
In terms of education and outreach from UNA-USA Headquarters, Olson mentioned UNA-USA’s many publications, specifically naming as tops on his list the InterDependent (edited by Fred Eckhart and John Tessitore), the annual Issues Before the General Assembly, and the Washington Weekly Report, produced by the former Director of the UNA-USA Washington Office Steve Dimoff. Olson called Dimoff’s weekly a “must read” in foreign policy circles.
He also cited the UNA-USA Fact Sheets and other information pamphlets such as “ABCs of the UN,” “What Every American Should Know About the UN” (the first version of which Olson authored), the UNA-USA kits for United Nations Day programs, materials produced for the Multilateral Project, and the various policy studies reports and papers. He said “the demise of all this due to budgetary pressures and the rise of the Internet is a sad chapter in UNA-USA’s history,” and hoped that copies of every document are securely archived.
Regarding how various members viewed UNA-USA’s study projects, Olson believed that a vast gulf existed between the Headquarters policy studies department and the grassroots members at the chapter- and division-levels. Virtually representing two cultures, the two groups had different models of social change, said Olson.
The policy staff paid lip service to citizen advocacy, but really believed in the power of reports, studies, and small consultations among elites. The grassroots people could not always grasp the subtleties of policy work and were much more idealistic and tended to see issues in terms of black and white. The grassroots people tended to be pacifists and populists; the policy people believed that military action (or the threat thereof) was sometimes justified and that wealth and power were not necessarily bad things.
Olson felt that the contrasts between the two groups probably stemmed from how differently they viewed the UN. “For the grassroots, the UN was an ideal, an international cooperation organization inherently superior to national governments. They tended to be very critical of US foreign policy. The policy people tended to take a more nuanced view of the US as an actor in international affairs and saw the UN as only one tool in the conduct of US foreign policy. Some of the policy work had very little to do with the UN,” Olson believed, mentioning, for example, the activities of the Economic Policy Council in the 1980s.
So why, the grassroots would ask, is an organization called the United Nations Association doing some policy work that has little or nothing to do with the UN? The answer — never admitted in public — is that for many years (certainly during my time in the 1980s and ’90s) the policy work paid the bills and brought prestige in policy circles. UNA-USA could secure grants from foundations to support policy studies and some of that money helped to pay the salaries and other expenses associated with the chapter/division operation.
Another source of friction, recalled Olson, was that “the policy people (and their allies on the board) thought the chapters/divisions should ‘pay for themselves,’ but unfortunately, the national share of membership dues was not enough. Prestige also played a role. The policy studies people were UNA-USA’s ‘rock stars.’ [Vice President] Toby Trister Gati and [President] Ed Luck were (and are) well-known and respected, especially among policy experts, practitioners and the foundation world.” Olson pointed out that the US-Soviet Parallel Studies Program, directed by Gati, became a unique channel of communication between the US and Soviet policy elites before and after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Luck did attempt to bridge the gulf between, on the one hand, the grassroots activists, and, on the other hand, some members and staff based at UNA-USA Headquarters. He initiated the Multilateral Issues and Institutions Project that became known as the Multilateral Project. Launched in 1986, it continued until the late ’90s. The policy staff prepared study guides on global issues, for example, on space, food, and the environment. The chapters were then urged to organize local panels and discussions groups, using the guides to help form policy recommendations, which the policy staff afterwards pulled together in a final national report. “Think tank meets grass roots,” Olson described it. However, half of the chapters at most and “only a tiny fraction of the members took part in these annual studies. The whole exercise, in my opinion, was too difficult. But give [Luck] credit for trying,” said Olson.
Olson considered Jeffrey Laurenti to be similarly favorably disposed towards the chapters. He served as Executive Director of Multilateral Studies and then of Policy Studies at UNA-USA Headquarters. “He did a lot of speaking in what he calls (quoting me) ‘chapter land,’” said Olson. Comfortable working at both levels, Laurenti started out as the volunteer chapter leader who first organized UNA-Princeton-Trenton. Much later, Laurenti, who by the time of the 1997 bylaws change had moved from UNA-USA’s executive staff to the Century Foundation, served on the UNA-USA National Board as the Mid-Atlantic Division’s representative where he often helped to explain and voice the views of grassroots members.
Olson noted further that the policy/grassroots dichotomy reflected a split among board members. Before 1997, many of the National Board seats were held by New York-based business leaders. Only a few were held by members of chapters; for example, the chair of the CCDP was ex officio a member of the board. “The chapter people on the Board felt they were viewed as bumpkins. They believed (with some justice) that the ‘New York millionaires’ controlled the organization and, therefore, should shoulder major financial responsibility,” said Olson.
These chapter people (and those across the country whom they represented) did not realize (or appreciate) how much the NY faction did, financially and otherwise, for the organization. For their part, the New York people held a variety of views about the grassroots people. Some of the ‘NY millionaires’ were truly selfless, gracious, and generous – John Whitehead comes to mind. But in many cases the NY group did not understand the grassroots, did not have a very high regard for chapters (which some openly mocked as an outdated organizational model), and in a few cases expressed outright disdain. (I remember one NY board member dismissing a chapter leader as a mere ‘school teacher.’).
In 1997, the bylaws were amended, “interestingly, at the instigation of a NY millionaire who thought the chapters should have more representation! — so much for my earlier generalizations – or, perhaps, the exception proves the rule,” Olson stated. The change allowed chapter members nine seats, one from each of nine newly created regions. The sides became more evenly matched numerically, but not in terms of power or influence. Tensions between the two sides still ran high. For example, members representing chapters became incensed upon reading about the 1998 appointment of William Luers as UNA-USA National Board President in the “New York Times” for they had neither been consulted nor even informed in advance.
The policy/NY vs. grassroots gulf was prominently on display at our national conventions. The UNA-USA bylaws gave the convention the ability to adopt substantive and business resolutions and to elect the board. The lion’s share of the convention delegates were chapter people. Some national staffers and board members viewed this event (held in years ending in 0 and 5 and once in between) as something like the arrival of the barbarians at the gates of Rome. The convention was described as a ‘circus,’ and the delegates had to be ‘managed’ (by me). There were usually contentious resolutions that in theory would become official UNA-USA policy if adopted, for example, resolutions supporting Palestinian rights. Much time and energy was spent in committee and on the floor of the convention trying to find middle ground on these resolutions.
At the end of each convention, a list of statements – both policy declarations and business items — emerged that, recalled Olson, “were often viewed by the New York staff as an embarrassment or impractical. The convention also saw battles over the dues structure, which caused further bad feeling. As for elections, Olson said “the nominating committee would present a slate of candidates for the Board of Directors and the National Council. Delegates could vote yes or no, so the elections were something of a joke (like a Stalinist regime in Eastern Europe, as one chapter wag observed).”
Though tough on the flaws as he remembered them, Olson ended on this positive note:
Despite the divisions that surfaced during the conventions, the participants (here another sign of the generosity and idealism of chapter folks) were nevertheless excited and inspired to be in New York to visit UN Headquarters. During his presidency, Luck would deliver a wonderful speech, which everyone loved. Stormy applause. During the debates on resolutions Luck would often stand up and be the quiet, extraordinarily well-informed and articulate voice of moderation and reason, and advocates on all sides would listen and follow his suggestions.
Olson left staff in 2001, relocating to Iowa where he again became active as a chapter volunteer.
JEFFREY LAURENTI first took notice of international affairs around age 9 while reading newspaper stories of John Foster Dulles’ death, the activities of Laotian commanders, and other matters about which he had little background and only partly understood. Yet by high school, he took part in programs of the Philadelphia World Affairs Council including its annual Model UN; by junior year, he was serving as Secretary-General of the Council’s Delaware Valley Model UN.
Laurenti served at both the chapter-level, where he co-founded UNA-Princeton/Trenton in 1990, and on the UNA-USA Headquarters staff where from 1987 to 2003 he was Executive Director first for Multilateral Studies and later for Policy Studies. He left staff in 2003, and from then until 2010, served on the UNA-USA National Board as an elected member from the Mid-Atlantic region and remains on the planning committee for the UNA-USA Members Day conferences held at the UN.
Laurenti said he gained a great deal of personal satisfaction from the projects on “a post-Reagan agenda for the US at the UN” in 1988, the environment in 1991, and human rights in 1994, policy activities that he led while a key UNA-USA executive. More recently, the Mid-Atlantic Conference Members Day events held for the last six years at the UN itself have drawn about 700 to 800 participants, and they, too, are among his most memorable volunteer events. Involved in all six, he moderated the panel discussion “What Do We Want? The [UN’s] Post-2015 Development Agenda” in the February 2014 conference.
Regarding his activities with UNA-Princeton/Trenton, he mentioned inviting UN speakers to the Princeton area as among its public education contributions. The Chapter’s membership has remained fairly stable over the long-term, with between 40 and 50 members. Speaking about UN-USA national membership more generally and the effects of the current views of Americans about the UN, Laurenti believes that public support is “considerably higher than it was at the height of the Cold War. Any hostility [to the UN] is concentrated in one important demographic cell – white male Republicans over age 50 – that reverberates very strongly in the US political debate.” Laurenti acknowledged that support declined dramatically among Jewish Americans after the 1975 “Zionism-Is-Racism” resolution and that many Jewish organizations “remain leery of the UN with enormous repercussions in the politics surrounding the UN domestically.” In contrast,
The generation that has grown up since the end of the Cold War is quite positive about the UN. The problem with mobilizing this swelling age cohort that would stand up for the UN is that most young adults take the UN for granted … [I]t’s there, you obviously have to work with it, so what’s the big deal? Add to that the broader decline in voluntary organizations (cf. the sociology classic “Bowling Alone”) and we have our conundrum.
In terms of UNA-USA’s activities, Laurenti believes that its national conventions sparked interest among the membership, especially after 1990 when ways were designed “to make use of the substantive issue resolutions [emerging from the conventions], for example, by getting local chapters to send them to their members of Congress.” He added that to heighten member appeal, UNA-USA arranged for two dozen UN ambassadors to host members for dinners in their residences.
On the other hand, one UNA-USA effort that tried to mobilize broad membership involvement but concluded with “diminishing interest over time in many chapters” was the attempt to engage chapters in working on the global policy project. “It took too much work, several chapters said.”
Looking back, Laurenti said his fondest memories arose out of his
speaking tours to ‘chapter land,’ as Jim Olson used to call it. I was always impressed by the commitment of UNA-USA members even – perhaps especially – in parts of the country where martial nationalism was thought to be vastly more popular than liberal internationalism. We had to tuck money into our policy grant applications for some such travel, and less often chapters would dig deep into their little treasuries to invite me. The United Nations Foundation employed Gillian Sorensen to do such rounds, and I think it really does energize the grassroots.
JANICE G. HUNT, another chapter-level volunteer who rose to the National Board, described UNA-Greater Boston’s education focus and how it transformed the traditional Model UN program into a national model. Chapter members including Hunt labored over the detailed innovations to be tailored for inner city schools. The purpose was to serve students who have fewer opportunities for enrichment programs than do the students of affluent suburban public and private schools.
Soon known as Global Classrooms, the special inclusionary program eventually became further adapted for use elsewhere by a staff unit set up at UNA-USA Headquarters. The approach features a curriculum aimed at engaging students for a period of between four weeks up to an academic year. Since Boston is a city where many foreign consulates are located, diplomats stationed there are often featured at UNA-USA local events. Funds raised through such events helped to support the Chapter’s Global Classrooms.
At the close of the 1990s, chapters finally won representation on the UNA-USA National Board. A key UNA-Greater Boston officer, Hunt earned a seat and eventually became National Board Secretary. Much time was lost, said Hunt, when serious internal dissensions arose. Another problem that Hunt commented on related to membership. She said that across the country it dropped from around 25,000 to about 11,000. Moreover, eventually many members of the National Board “grew older and greyer and died off.” Other contributors added their views on the same subjects as was seen earlier and will be seen below.
Yet in retrospect, Hunt credited UNA-USA with various successes, the most praiseworthy of which, in her judgment, culminated in 2007 when the Leo Nevas Human Rights Award was established. It is annually bestowed upon prominent, long-time advocates, but a companion award was soon added to recognize up-and-coming younger activists. Board Member Nevas had launched a vigorous campaign to renew UNA-USA’s focus on human rights and also to reinvigorate the UN Human Rights Council. Lawyer, judge, and philanthropist, Nevas had long advocated for human rights in the US and abroad, and, before his death in 2009 at age 97, he was UNA-USA longest serving member.
GEORGE GARLAND, who earned a Doctorate of Business Administration at George Washington University, first joined UNA-USA as Executive Director of the UNA-National Capital Area (NCA) Chapter in 2000. Four years later, he was recruited to become Executive Director for National Membership at UNA-USA Headquarters. After leaving that staff three years later, he joined the UNA-Southern New York State Division as a local volunteer and now a Board officer.
Upon starting his UNA-NCA job in Washington, DC, Garland discovered that his basement office space amounted to 600 square feet. From there he was to report to an 80-member Board as well as a 30-member Advisory Council. In addition to 25 separate committees and task forces, he was also to work with “super committees” organizing the October 24th UN Day and the December 10th Human Rights Day. At first glance the membership structure might have seemed unwieldy. But with the pool of members so large – about 800 when Garland began at UNA-NCA and 1,200 when he departed for UNA-USA Headquarters – the proportion who sought to play more active roles resulted in usefully deploying a large number of them among the numerous committees and task forces.
Like UNA-Greater Boston and UNA-Monterey Bay, UNA-NCA also implemented the Global Classrooms program, while its Model UN sessions uniquely benefited from taking place on the premises of the State Department. Moreover, in some recent years, not only did Metro Washington area public schools students take part but also students from Africa. UNA-NCA’s Adopt-a-Minefield project focused on a locale in Mozambique, with monies raised by Chapter members, some of whom enlisted the help of suburban private school students and Episcopal church clergy.
Recalling his UNA-NCA Chapter service in Washington, DC, he said the experience that yielded the most personal satisfaction for him was working with attorney and predecessor Executive Director Evelyn Falkowski. To help to underwrite the Chapter’s needs, Falkowski proposed to the Board that a residential condo be purchased with the rental proceeds going to UNA-NCA. When the Board did not act, she bought a condo on her own and contributed the rents to UNA-NCA. For a time, Falkowski herself “worked for love but no money,” said Garland, who eventually assisted her in selling the condo after which Falkowski donated the $300,000 proceeds to the Chapter thereby doubling its endowment. Now each year during its Annual Membership Meeting, UNA-NCA gives a service award named in her honor.
Subsequently recruited to direct national membership development at UNA-USA Headquarters, Garland arrived in Manhattan in late 2004. He estimated that membership across the country then stood at about 12,000 and, despite rough patches along the way, rose to about 18,000 before he left in 2007.
During his tenure, the Young Professionals for International Cooperation (YPIC) initiative yielded 665 new dues-paying members in a network of 25 groups around the country that were e-mail connected. They became significant enough that a seat on the UNA-USA National Board was sought and soon created for YPIC representation. Many viewed the initiative as a promising growth opportunity, though some questioned whether or not YPIC enrollees would renew membership when their first memberships expired. There were also 2,000 Student Alliance members who actually constituted the fastest growing segment of the national membership, but they turned out to be “a high-maintenance and labor-intensive segment with a renewal rate of only around 10 percent.” Although a huge potential pool estimated at 50,000 students, alumni, and parents existed in UNA-USA’s Global Classrooms program, there was no systematic way to reach them by e-mail, and, explained Garland, “they were used to getting benefits from UNA-USA without paying for membership.”
Garland also described data problems that his staff encountered in totaling membership numbers. For example, the definition of member had been “elasticized” by allowing the grace period for the payment of late renewal dues to climb to 12 months. When the definition was adjusted to include current paid-up members and only those granted not more than a six-month grace period, the membership total “fell from 20,000 back to 18,000, a number which held for many years.”
To deal with membership recruitment, the USA-UNA National Board created a Membership Committee. A direct-mail campaign was launched, but the follow-up, cost-benefit analysis found “that we spent about $100 to bring in a new member paying $25.” Moreover, said Garland, retention rates “from direct mail were so low (about 30 percent) so we did not make up that cost over time as projected by the direct mail firm.” However, UNA-USA’s own list of its former members proved less costly to use and more effective. “Former members responded favorably to appeals to rejoin UNA-USA at a rate five times greater than [nonmembers whose] names were purchased from other organizations.” Upon being contacted, the former members voiced “no major complaints, they just felt they hadn’t heard from us,” explained Garland.
In March 2007, Garland and several other Headquarters staff were terminated from their jobs. Garland remains involved, serving now as the Board Treasurer and Energy Project Director of the Southern New York State Division of UNA-USA.
LIUBA GRECHEN SHIRLEY grew up on the stories her Russian immigrant grandparents told of the Russian Revolution. Fascinated by history and foreign policy, she studied politics and Russian as a New York University undergraduate, took courses in St. Petersburg, Russia, and joined the UNA-NYC Chapter in her early 20s.
A volunteer with UNA-New York City and its YPIC group, Grechen Shirley rose to become the group’s Chair. After organizing its first Global Festival and raising $10,000 for HERO, a program in Africa to aid at-risk children dealing with the effects of HIV/AIDS, she came to the attention of UNA-USA Headquarters and was recruited by George Garland to manage its national YPIC program. But the day before she reported to begin working in March 2007, five staffers including Garland were terminated.
Membership responsibilities then fell to two other staff and Grechen Shirley. At the start, the number of chapters that were active could not be determined with precision, and even the exact differences between a chapter and a division were unclear. Much information on chapters was out of date with some chapters’ annual reports on file merely handwritten. Her office “lacked an electronic database, an efficient manner to evaluate the grassroots base, and standard procedures for chapter management.” Upon the departure of her two colleagues, Shirley was promoted to Membership Director.
Grechen Shirley’s review of chapter activities from the information on hand and what she gleaned elsewhere gave her a sense of the tensions that had built up between the field and the national office which “all but ignored the chapters.” She came to realize that a previous Headquarters effort had attempted to recast the grassroots activists among the approximately 150 chapters into a field-based membership of donors providing support for national campaigns such as Adopt-a-Minefield and HERO. Though aware that she might be viewed with suspicion as being just another “face of the national office,” she set out to visit the field on a fence-mending tour.
Working with UNA-USA’s Council of Chapters and Divisions (CCD), she began traveling the country, visiting numerous chapters to listen and to learn the views of members first-hand. Some welcomed her to overnight with their families at home, and one member, Diane Gonzalez, even drove her for two and a half weeks of visits around Southern California.
Gradually Grechen Shirley was able to identify which chapters had long been inactive or otherwise failed to meet UNA-USA’s requirements for being a chapter. Some of the approximately 150 were dissolved or merged with active neighboring chapters leaving a total of about 125. This was accomplished as she and her staff “created an online annual report that collected detailed information on all chapters, their leaders, and their members. We updated the database, and started to create programs for the members.” She said that membership fluctuated during her tenure from between 9,000 and 15,000, and a factor in the count was “whether you were counting grace period members,” as Garland also stated above.
In addition, Grechen Shirley worked with Larry Levine and the CCD to create a 155-page “Best Practice Sharing” publication to enable chapters to help each other strengthen their programs and membership rosters. She said,
We launched nationwide conference calls and skills building sessions. We also launched the weekly Chapter Leader Update in e-mail format that I drafted [to alert] them to any news at the national office that they should know about…. Eventually the CCD became the CCR – Council of Chapters and Regions. We worked with the CCR leadership on a Chapter Handbook, Standard Operating Procedures, and By-laws, and worked closely with attorneys to draft the Chapter-National Affiliation Agreements.
In 2010, the UNA-USA Board elected A. Edward Elmendorf to serve as President, and Grechen Shirley joined him in starting the second, and ultimately successful, attempt to ally UNA-USA with the United Nations Fund (UNF). Along with CCR members Larry Levine, Alma Morrison, Mel Boynton, Karen Mulhauser, Herb Behrstock, and pro bono attorney Judith Thoyer, Grechen Shirley then managed all arrangements for the “complex National Convention required by New York State law to approve the merger.” Meanwhile, she helped to launch “a new action-oriented Student Alliance program to engage students in a nationwide network of student advocacy groups, international affairs clubs, and Model UN teams.”
Grechen Shirley recalls being most inspired during her earliest days with UNA-USA when, at age 23, she took part in her first annual Day on Capitol Hill event. “I watched in awe as our older members advocated for the UN.” Her fondest memories overall later emerged from her field trips while meeting members from chapters in Southern California in the West and then to Boston, Philadelphia, Bucks County PA, and Maryland in the East.
She is now Director of Operations for Economic Development and Africa Programs at New York University where she is completing work on a Master’s degree focusing on economics and social innovation.
ELIZABETH LATAHM, still active with UNA-NCA, now works at the US State Department, after previously serving as Executive Director of the US Committee for the UN Development Program (UNDP) and on staff at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Much earlier, as a Missouri 4-H youth, she first experienced different cultures through international food fairs – at times with polar reactions of likes and dislikes. Nonetheless, in high school, she applied for and was accepted to do her senior year as a Rotary Youth Ambassador to South Africa during the post-apartheid and the pre-Mandela election period. Latham went on to earn an international affairs Bachelor’s at Johns Hopkins University but, while completing her national securities Master’s at Georgetown University, she realized that she knew little about the UN. That prompted her to sign on as a local UNA-NCA member through joining its YPIC group where she became the YPIC President in 2000.
UNA-NCA was then scheduling most of its meetings and events during lunchtime which precluded the involvement of many young professionals who were not senior enough in their jobs to leave their offices at that time. Moreover, the luncheon events involved guest experts who addressed many aging and already widely knowledgeable members of the organization. If available, the young professionals were enlisted to “do logistical work at big meetings and host an occasional happy hour,” said Latham, but not to engage in the substantive work of the Chapter. This generally happened despite that fact that most veteran UNA-USA members agreed about the need to grow a new generation of UN supporters.
Latham recalled that a few YPIC members had previously attempted to change and improve matters only to cause rifts among the UNA-NCA membership. To avoid the possibility of again upsetting any veterans accustomed to the status quo, she began working with YPIC members, who earlier put on a few evening events. Her cadre of young professionals then formed substantive YPIC committees of members to serve as “shadow” assistants helping UNA-NCA’s own substantive committees in their work. “This,” explained Latham, “allowed the young professionals to benefit from the expertise and experience of the established committees … and to bulk up the substantive information on their resumes.” It looked professionally more impressive to have worked with UNA-NCA’s Peace and Security Committee than to be listed as just having served as chair of YPIC’s Social Committee.
After gaining YPIC recruits for new types of relationships with UNA-NCA’s committees, Latham oriented the recruits about the history of UNA-USA, the structure of UNA-NCA, and the special focus on the UN as distinct from on international relations more generally. In addition, she coordinated what became a popular “Taste of…” series featuring foreign embassies that offered samples of their cuisines to attendees and discussion of issues. Latham also organized a yearly YPIC gala to celebrate UN Day. All the while, Latham strived “to ensure that relations between established UNA-USA members and the young professionals were as smooth as possible.”
Career events were also promoted enabling young professionals to reach out to prospective employers willing to explain their agencies’ missions in panel discussions. Such programs were free to YPIC members, and the admission fee for others was structured close enough to a membership fee that it encouraged the enrollment of many new recruits. Furthermore, the events were organized by topics such as careers in building peace or with a specific geographic focus such as working in Latin America. This enabled YPIC committees to reach out to other specialized professional organizations to help to publicize the events through their particular networks.
In two years, such activities drew upon the efforts of just a handful of volunteers at the start to more than 50 volunteers. The e-mail list for publicizing events increased from a couple of hundred addresses to over a thousand. In recognition of her accomplishments in building interest and membership in the organization, UNA-NCA asked Latham to take on the role of Vice President for Programs for the Chapter itself. This enabled her to try to further integrate the work of the young professionals with that of the established UNA-NCA substantive committees.
Meanwhile, she expanded the local UN birthday celebration from a Saturday morning talk and awards ceremony to a week of activities culminating in a public finale and gala. Over the years, the celebratory activities varied in format. Latham’s favorite was the last she organized held at the National Geographic complex with cultural performances from around the globe and information tables of various UN agencies.
Latham eventually rose to prominence at the national UNA-USA level. Admittedly “a hyper active volunteer for a few years,” she was chosen in 2000 as President of UNA-NCA’s YPIC group and later, a Vice President of the UNA-NCA Board. By 2003, she was elected as the first-ever YPIC representative to serve on the national UNA-USA board, though only in an observer status for the first few years of her seven-year tenure.
As at the UNA-NCA Chapter, the problem of “greying” had worried the UNA-USA Board. Discussions focused on how to design a national support network for young professionals including creating a “next stage” ladder enabling young members to progress from chapter-level up to national-level leadership. Latham acknowledged that many older UNA-USA National Board members were keen to attract young professionals and sustain their involvement. Nonetheless, some of those genuinely concerned offered ideas that were “often stifling because they brought their own notions of how young professionals should be engaged” that seldom matched what new professionals around the country were seeking, she said.
Because of the achievements reached at the UNA-NCA Chapter level, Latham gained the confidence of many at the UNA-USA national level – such as George Garland, Lori Mirek, and others – who helped both to guide Latham and like-minded colleagues “through the minefield of organizational politicking that rivaled those found in local school boards,” she said, and also to initiate the kinds of programs that proved successful at the level of UNA-NCA.
PHILIP REYNOLDS retired in 2001 as the Director of the UN Development Program’s Global Water Program, having previously served with the UN in Austria, Iraq, Pakistan, Tanzania, Thailand, and at UN Headquarters during his 35-year career.
His interest in international affairs actually began when he was a high school junior teaching Bible studies in Southeast Alaska and later, as a college junior teaching English at a Hong Kong university. While studying for a Master’s in public administration at Indiana University, he came to admire Professor Walter Herman Carl Laves, who had been present at the founding conference of the UN and was also a founder of UNESCO. (Laves coauthored the 1957 UNESCO: Purpose, Prospects, Progress.) In the early 1960s, Reynolds served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand.
Even while with the UN, Reynolds joined UNA-Westchester County, NY in 1983 and served as Chapter President for three years. He oversaw four public meetings each year for which the Chapter’s writers and editor Marcia Brewster issued newsletters tied into the individual theme of each meeting. “Our programs were opportunistic in terms of timing and partners. For example, college presentations were scheduled when students were available. For a public debate on whether the US should ratify the International Criminal Court treaty, we partnered with Pace University Law School and Citizens for Global Solutions. In addition, leading speakers such as former Secretary-General Kofi Annan (and later Nane Annan, his wife) made guest appearances.” After a public meeting, UNA-Westchester County often circulated petitions to Congress and the President on the topic of that meeting.
Regarding UNA-Westchester membership, Reynolds said that its numbers peaked at about 200 at the beginning of his tenure. “Growth towards that level was because of cheap student memberships which we had difficulty sustaining…. We tried to make a distinction between dues-paying members and those who attended programs in their particular field of interest,” but few of the latter became new members. He added that in suburban Scarsdale, the UN General Assembly’s “Zionism-Is-Racism” resolution resulted in cutting the Chapter’s membership in half.
Reynolds stated that UNA-USA Headquarters did provide “invaluable help in keeping up our membership rosters and sending out dues reminders.” However, he noted that “At one point there was an unfortunate tendency of UNA-USA National (which was going bankrupt) to capture new members and their dues for itself rather than assigning them to the nearest chapter.
To boost memberships, he recommended that continued attempts should be made to reach out to members of related affinity groups – such as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, members of the Association of Former International Civil Servants, and members of international clubs – to join forces and, perhaps join UNA-USA. He also suggested seeking “youth through competitions over the Internet, as Citizens for Global Solutions did with their UN video contest.”
At the same time, Reynolds described UNA-USA’s Day on the Hill as “a win-win which supports the UN while providing a great experience for participants.” Both as a UNA-Westchester member and a local constituent of House Representative Nita Lowey, he enjoyed meetings with Lowey, whom he characterized as “a great fan of the UN.” His other most gratifying memories were of his relationships with his Chapter colleagues on the board that benefited from a high degree of camaraderie. Reynolds relinquished his UNA-Westchester post upon relocating to Annapolis in 2010.
MARCIA BREWSTER majored in international relations at the University of Wisconsin and earned her Master’s at Georgetown University. While working in Thailand for the Thai government and later as a journalist, she joined the UN, retiring from the UN after 30 years and culminating her career there as Senior Officer for Water Resources and Manager of the Interagency Task Force on Gender and Water. She is now a senior research consultant with the Water and Green Growth project of the World Water Council, an international French-based think tank.
Producing the Chapter newsletter of UNA-Westchester County NY, Brewster served as Vice President and then succeeded Philip Reynolds to become the President from 2011 to 2014. She has also represented the Chapter on the Mid-Atlantic Division Board. During each of UNA-Westchester’s three or four events a year, she served in key capacities such as organizer and speaker. The 2013 UN Day event involved international singers and dancers plus many students who had competed in a video contest sponsored by the UNA-Southern New York State Division.
As for its educational functions, the Chapter has facilitated Model UN programs in local high schools as well as at Mercy College and Pace University. During two UN Days, students were directly involved in showcasing their 2012 sustainable energy projects and then their winning 2013 video “The World We Want.” Brewster herself also speaks to students about sustainable development, water resources, gender issues, and careers at the UN.
Regarding membership, Brewster reports that it was much larger around 2004-05 but declined shortly afterwards due to the loss of many students who were first introduced to UN issues through UNA-USA’s Student Alliance but who have since drifted away. Over the last few years, it has remained steady even though the Chapter was without a membership chair and has also experienced difficulties with the database managed from UNA-USA Headquarters.
The 2012 and 2013 UN Day celebrations were especially gratifying because of the concerted outreach efforts that resulted in a remarkable turnout of students and their teachers and parents. In both years, the Chapter adapted UNA-USA’s theme to the local situation and successfully reached its goal of educating the community about the UN’s work, said Brewster.
The Chapter has also celebrated International Women’s Day and Women’s Month each year. In 2012 and 2014, it partnered with the County Board of Legislators in honoring outstanding women who work with the UN and reside in Westchester County. In 2014, Representative Nita Lowey was also honored as Minority Leader of the House Appropriations Committee and one of the biggest supporters of the UN and women’s issues in the House of Representatives.
Some of Brewster’s most memorable activities are of the annual Mid-Atlantic Conference and Members Day held at UN Headquarters that draws 700 to 800 participants. She has taken part in all six and states that they are “definitely on the same level as large conferences that I organized and attended when I was at the UN.”
GILLIAN SORENSEN, a Senior Adviser at the United Nations Fund (UNF) and previously a UN Assistant Secretary-General, actually got her first official close-up of the UN in 1978, when New York City Mayor Ed Koch named her Commissioner for the UN, the City’s liaison to 30,000 New York-based diplomats, a responsibility she carried out for 12 years. Much earlier, she had become aware of UNA-USA when her late husband Ted Sorensen, President John F. Kennedy’s Special Counsel and speechwriter, took part in one or more of its policy projects. She herself came to know members at UNA-USA’s meetings in New York City and also participated in some of their chapter-level grassroots activities when she met leaders
… from across the country, and they were great. They were informed, they were the kind of people that see across borders. They may have come from the Middle West or from the South but they were really internationalists, and it was a good thing. It just opened my mind… I also began to understand much more clearly that if we’re to have Congressional support in both the House and the Senate that those representatives have to hear from their own [constituents]… I began to feel more strongly that if we didn’t have voices from the field, that members of Congress, most of whom knew very little about the UN, would just think it didn’t matter.
Sorensen said that, while in charge of external relations for the UN Secretary-General, she gave briefings abroad but also to American groups. Her many trips around the US involved five or six speaking engagements each trip.
I enjoyed it a lot. I saw America in a whole new way. I went to Fargo, North Dakota and Birmingham, Alabama, and the far corners of the country and met some very interesting, smart, concerned people … I could see the response, feel the response….
UNA-USA’s members in the 1970s tended to be older, some with memories of the origins of the UN and its earliest leadership, said Sorensen. She added that many became “conscious of the fact that the membership was aging, and, if the UNA-USA was going to survive and thrive that they had to find a way to bring in younger people.” Thus, she applauded the measures taken to attract and accommodate young professionals as, for example, through the YPIC program that Elizabeth Latham and Liuba Gretchen Shirley described above.
Regarding efforts to ally UNA-USA and UNF, Sorenson said that the first effort “really hit a wall” because “the timing was not right,” and there were legal, financial, and personnel questions that were not resolved. In the second effort, the timing was right, stated Sorensen, for UNA-USA was in financial straits, and everyone concerned looked to the alliance to bring the two organizations together to save UNA-USA.
Sorensen added that she “very deliberately tried to become not just a supporter but a champion of this alliance.” She helped to arrange for the pro bono attorney from a leading Manhattan firm to work on the details, a complex process that stretched out over two years. A period of apprehensive adjustment then set in, “but everyone in the chapters would now agree that it’s working…. UNA-USA brought something that UNF did not have and that’s the grassroots presence across the country. [T]he grassroots activity … is growing and deepening.”
MEMBERSHIP DATA on UNA-USA nationally and at the chapter level – data that are uniformly categorized and periodically compiled – appear hard to come by. The same may be said of some other long established national organizations with chapters sprawled across the US, especially older organizations like UNA-USA, many of whose members worked with few, if any, paid staff at the local levels. Often meagerly funded, they had to get by in the days before computers with appropriate software.
As Gillian Sorensen made clear above, one of UNA-USA’s strengths is that it grew into a nationwide network of chapters whose members help to educate the public at the grassroots level. At the same time, as informed constituents, the same chapter members work to educate their Senators and Congressional Representatives by speaking up on issues and legislative proposals important both to the US and the UN.
In terms of the numbers of members, it might be noted that the small predecessor organization CSOP did not include a formal network of subunits like the network of chapters upon which the alliance of UNA-USA and UNF is built today. By looking at CSOP’s letterhead (see Appendix _ ), one can easily tally the number of members who lent the weight of their national prominence to support CSOP’s mission of helping to establish a UN.
Not so easily has anyone been able to tally the number of members at the National Board level plus the grassroots level of UNA-USA’s network of chapters throughout the US. From 1944, when the first AAUN chapter was founded in the San Fernando Valley of California, through later decades of the 20th Century, and into the 21st Century, different methods of keeping track of members were used.
In fact, over time and in different places, various categories of membership have existed such as full dues-paying memberships, free spousal memberships, free student memberships, paid student memberships, and in some chapters, memberships that continued to be counted despite defaults in payment of dues over varying numbers of months. There also was a period when a chapter’s lump-sum total of “memberships” was not expected to be reported to UNA-USA Headquarters and, on the other hand, a time when Headquarters collected a new member’s dues but did not assign that new member to the chapter in which the member lived.
Given such vagaries over the not-too-distant past, the total number of members at a given time became affected by the imprecision resulting from the above factors. Nonetheless, good-faith reporting of numbers did occur, as was discussed by several members above, and as may be found in diverse documents.
For example, according to James Olson, during his tenure at UNA-USA Headquarters in the 1990s, about 15,000 members belonged to 165 chapters and divisions.
At the start of the 21st Century, “The UNA-USA 2000-2001 Annual Report” stated that the total had grown to over 23,000 members incorporated into 175 community-based chapters and statewide divisions. Then, around 2003, UNA-USA issued an eight-page document titled “UNA-USA: Celebrating Our History.” It displayed a timeline showing that the membership upon publication had a “grassroots network, which today consists of 175 national chapters and divisions and nearly 20,000 members.”
George Garland recalled that upon starting as Membership Director at UNA-USA Headquarters in 2004, there was a total membership of approximately 12,000; upon his departure in 2007, the total was approximately 18,000. Members in the 25 YPIC groups numbered 665, and, though not counted as members, about 50,000 individuals were involved in the UNA-USA Global Classrooms program.
Liuba Grechen Shirley, the Membership Director until 2011, estimated that the total membership fluctuated from between 9,000 to 15,000 members. After analyzing each chapter’s status in terms of activities and productivity, a few were deactivated while others were consolidated with nearby chapters, thereby winnowing down approximately 150 chapters to about 125 chapters.
Finally, exactly 70 years after the San Fernando Chapter began as the first of its kind, the current UNA-USA membership in early 2014 was officially reported in total and by separate categories. The numbers provided by UNF Membership Director Laura Giroux were: Total Membership: 16,995. By category: Lifetime, 345; Patron, 14; Sponsor, 563; Regular, 4,490; Fixed, 829; Introductory, 1,643; Student, 50; Free Student, 7,608; Free Spouse, 1,218; and UNF, Staff: 235.
Of course, regardless of how one categorizes the kinds of memberships or tries to count the total number of members, Gillian Sorenson’s words describing UNA-USA ring true. The organization, Sorenson quickly learned,
… was not just a policy group, but it was also the grassroots effort to support, to build support and understanding for the United Nations [through] many chapters across the country, in towns large and small. And the chapters were comprised of some civic leaders, some regular citizens, some people from academia or the business world or whatever, who simply cared about the UN and wanted to support it.