What We Do Wrong

garen_mainThis article is the child of an interesting mating of notions I encountered over a span of just three days: a comment I heard at the ANC-WR banquet, an ANC Burbank meeting discussion, and two pieces on the Huffington Post.

We’ve come a long way from the days when we got political traction in the halls of federal, state, and local halls of power only out of the kindness of people’s hearts—throwing us a bone, Cold War considerations, and sometimes even sincere belief.

But we’re missing something. Somehow we get close to the prize (think of two years ago and the genocide resolution passing committee muster), but never quite get it. We don’t close the BIG deals. We get relative pennies for Armenia and Artzakh. And this happens at all levels of government. We are not yet in a position to get what we reasonably need and are equitably entitled to.

Besides obvious cases of weakening our political presence through outright foolishness— as manifested through the ego and personal-gain considerations driving the fiasco that was Glendale’s 2007 and 2009 elections— there’s something else art play.

When someone who is otherwise a “friend”, as the jargon goes, does something damaging to our interests, we don’t rip ‘em a new one. We play be the rules, participate in the process, yet we don’t get commensurate returns. Sometimes this is because we fail to ask, to lay out clearly what we want, but even that’s not always the case.

Those currently in power do not take us sufficiently seriously. Yes, we’ve mobilized votes where it matters. Yes, we’ve improved (though we still have a long way to go) when it comes to political fundraising. Yes we’ve even elected our home grown candidates, sometimes under very adverse circumstances. So why aren’t we getting a fair shake?

I think Machiavelli may point us to the right answer. In his famous The Prince tract, he poses the question, from the perspective of the ruler “Is it better to be feared or loved?” His answer, after very interesting analysis is: “feared”.

We are not yet feared as a community/interest group. We are respected, loved, cooperated with, encouraged, supported, etc. by some and opposed, for whatever reasons and on whatever basis, by others. But no one fears us.

We are not alone in this, as evidenced in the postings from Monday’s and Tuesday’s (November 9 & 10), respectively, Huff Post pieces quoted next. The specifics in each case don’t matter, so please try not to get hung up on them. It’s the same position two other constituencies find themselves in.

Jean Hamsher wrote:

“But let’s be clear about this. The only reason that we are in the position where the price of passing health care reform is allowing even liberal Marcy Kaptur to sneeringly dismiss choice activists as narrow class warriors who don’t care about working women is because Planned Parenthood and NARAL have allowed it to happen. They collect millions of dollars in revenue each year. They’ve exacted no price from the Marcy Kapturs of the world, who actually have to care what liberals think of them, and focused instead on anti-choice Republicans who are only empowered by their ire. They have no scalps. There is no price for crossing Planned Parenthood and NARAL. It isn’t a fight that the Democrats want to spend “political capital” on, and these groups insure that they don’t have to.”

Emma Ruby-Sachs wrote:

“I think the freeze in fundraising is a great idea… Threatening the fiscal base of the Democratic Party is an important tactic. But threatening their voter base by floating a truly liberal candidate in districts with close races would be an even better strategy. Have someone run on an equal rights, populist platform with support for social services and equality under the law and see how quickly the Democrats start racing around for ways to fold in the left vote they have ignored for so long… Ralph Nader tried this and managed to strike fear into the heart of major political parties for many years to come. Let’s play on this fear.”

Both advise, in effect, becoming feared. That’s what we have to do. Someone has to lose their election, ideally an incumbent. And, that loss has to be attributable largely if not exclusively, to us and our efforts.

So start thinking about how much time and/or money you can spare, then go further than that when the time comes. Give your heart and soul to that ONE race that will clinch things. All it takes is once, and for a very long time, people in office will think long and hard before crossing us.


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  1. Diana said:

    There are good men and women in the United States Congress that know the truth and would recognize the Armenian Genocide if it were not for the powerful interests that DO, exactly as Mr. Yegparian suggests in his article, threaten and bribe Congress so our elected officials deny – not only the facts of the Armenian Genocide – but the record of the United States of America that exist in the National Archives relating to this fact. The Armenian people will get NOWHERE by going after a political party – either one – but by exposing the ones who are thwarting our every effort. And we all know who it is ,. . . but we dare not even speak it. Truth is on our side . . . but until the Armenian people are willing to SPEAK it . . . we will be left eating crumbs.

  2. Nareg Seferian said:

    Machiavelli says that it is better to be both feared and loved, but if one had to choose between them, then the priority would have to go to being feared. That isn’t to say that we cannot be respected overall, that we are compelled to be “feared”, whatever that might mean in the context of Armenian-American activism.

    In international politics, I believe being “feared” would imply having a big country and formidable armed forces, a large population and a significant, vibrant economy. Armenians don’t have any of this, and we certainly don’t have the numbers nor the economic clout to make any difference in any of our Diaspora communities. Maybe we can swing the vote for some elections in some little towns or suburbs in California, Massachussets, maybe New Jersey, or Michigan… but that isn’t very impressive.

    I’m not sure where that leaves us exactly. Perhaps if we found some specific niche, corner a market or something, and create conditions for Armenia to have disproportionate, if specific, economic influence. Or just invest in the army of the country… Either way, we are going to have to think of something much more creative than taking Machiavelli’s advice at face value.

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