UNA-USA Annual Meeting 2013

by Kelsey Rihbany

As many of you can see from the pictures posted throughout the website, Negeen and I had a successful trip to Washington D.C. for the United Nations Association National Meeting!  Our first day of the meeting started off with a Young Professionals Round Table where we learned some valuable tips from other groups around the nation. This gave us great ideas to utilize with GenUNSoCal.  We attended both the UNA Business Meeting and Plenary and the Working Session and were informed on all the up and coming events and initiatives supported by the UNA this year, exciting events such as “Thank a Peace Keeper” and many more!  In addition, we heard a highly motivating speech by UNA-USA’s Patrick Madden and Mary-Frances Wain giving advice on taking your chapter from routine to RAD, and thinking outside the box when it comes to creating innovative projects. Our very own Negeen spoke at the National Meeting on improving membership and the benefits of starting your own GenUN chapter, including the potential impact on students and the community at large.


Spending time in our nation’s capital was beyond exciting; there was a dynamic atmosphere with so many people to meet, but the event that had the most impact on me personally was the speech given by Wesley J. Reisser (Foreign Affairs Officer, Office of Human Rights & Humanitarian Affairs, U.S. Department of State). The title of his speech was "Human Rights in Focus."  Dr. Reisser spoke about his experience first hand in working on human rights policies in the State Department and the current status of human rights worldwide. His talk was truly inspirational because he explained how ordinary individuals like us can make a difference in this vitally important area. We ended our day with a mixer in the evening; meeting, sharing ideas and stories with other Young Professionals and making valuable connections and friendships.


The second day at the conference was all about preparing attendees for Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. We learned about the “Dos and Don'ts” in advocating on behalf of the UNA, specifically how to support UN mandates and the UN Millennium Goals. This day by far had so much valuable information packed into it. We took a look at what initiatives are taking center stage right now at the United Nations, focusing a great deal on what is required when speaking about issues to members of Congress, both Senators and House Representatives. For example, we discussed CRPD (a bill supporting people with disabilities worldwide), particularly what is required for ratification and how essential the passage of the bill will be in bringing help to millions globally. We wrapped up this amazing day with a reception for members from all the different UNA chapters from around the nation. Again another great opportunity to meet, discuss and exchange ideas, as we all readied ourselves for the following day, which was our big day on “the Hill!”


Our third and final day found Negeen and I heading for Capitol Hill! This undoubtedly was the day that had the most impact of our entire visit. We headed to Capitol Hill to meet with our Representatives. I met with the aids of both Congresswoman Linda Sanchez and Congressman Ed Royce. It was great to receive positive feedback from Representative Linda Sanchez, along with leaving information packets with Representative Ed Royce’s office. Just the excitement of being on Capitol Hill was enough but it also felt empowering to be a voice for causes that truly matter, and to know that you can walk into your local representative’s office and make your voice heard.


As our meeting with our Congressional Representatives came to an end and we headed back to UNA, we had the privilege to hear a motivational speech from Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT). The Senator spoke on how much ordinary people, like you and I, advocating on Capitol Hill can make a significant difference. He shared the current status of a number of world issues and his perspective on each issue. We even learned that he didn’t drive to meet us but walked to UNA to give the speech! Both Negeen and I found this to be such an act of humility and service, given that a senator has many options at his discretion in traveling around the capital. The opportunity to meet Senator Christopher Murphy and listen to his speech was definitely a highlight of our trip.


After the keynote speech from Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT), we made our way to the last stop of the day, which was the Offices of Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Barbra Boxer. Here we were able to talk with aids about UN issues and how the senators could make a difference. In addition, our very own Negeen spoke on behalf of the California chapter, on why the UN Millennium Goals remain so vital on a global scale and the accompanying impact they have in numerous countries around the world. While we were wrapping up our meeting in the senators’ offices, it is tradition for the California chapter to bring flowers to each senator for their continued support of the UN. As we were presenting the flowers to one of the aids for Senator Feinstein, the Senator walked in to accept the flowers and to greet all of us! It was a great way to end an incredible experience in our nation’s capital.


Three days of excitement, meeting people, learning about advocacy, not to mention a side trip to the White House, gave us a great perspective to come back with for GenUNSoCal and we look forward to a great year ahead. All in all, the experience at the UNA National Conference was a success and life changing! The experience motivated us to speak up for the things we believe in and to know that there are ALWAYS ways to get your voice heard.