WRIGHTWOOD, Calif.—Nearly every Armenian American is familiar with the closing words shared by President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863 during his Gettysburg Address, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” This summer, hundreds of youth at AYF Camp Big Pines got a fresh dose of Abraham Lincoln’s praise for “government of the people, by the people and for the people” by taking part in weekly mock congressional elections organized by the Armenian National Committee of America –Western Region (ANCA-WR).
The mock congressional elections taught over 500 campers the value of democratic governance, the hard work it takes to be elected in a democracy, the value of a free press, and why Armenian Americans need to be energetically engaged in local, state and federal government and campaigns.
“Democracy is a contact sport,” explained Elen Asatryan, ANCA-WR Executive Director. “The elections we held this year at AYF Camp taught the campers, in a very vivid way, that they need to be on the field when it comes to advancing the Armenian Cause in the United States. Happily, the campers grasped the fact that change cannot occur in politics and more broadly in public policy by standing on the sidelines,” she added.
During the summer of 2013, AYF Camp hosted half a dozen mock congressional elections. The elections, which were importantly led by campers, involved each camper getting one ballot and then breaking into three political parties. The political parties were charged with selecting a candidate and crafting policies, on issues as diverse as health care policy, environmental issues, matters related to Tibet and finally U.S. policy with respect to Armenia and Artsakh. As the political parties worked on their party platforms, AYF campers serving as media representatives from CNN, NPR and ABC News peppered the party members and their candidates with tough questions. Concurrently, the elections involved undercover fraud investigators, seeking out voters who might be willing to violate election laws. At the conclusion of the elections, each party’s candidate stood before all the campers and delivered a campaign speech, seeking to gain the votes needed to win the general election. On several occasions, the elections were decided by only one or two votes, proving to all campers that in a free and fair election, every vote counts.
For several years AYF Camp has partnered with the ANCA-WR to teach the next generation how America’s democratic system of government works and the value of Armenian Americans being actively involved in all levels of government. At each of the week-long sessions this summer, the ANCA-WR provided a speaker to talk about issues related to the Armenian Cause.
“We were proud to partner with the ANCA-WR again this year as part of our content-rich educational program for AYF Camp Big Pines campers,” remarked Anya Agopian, who serves as Management Board Member for AYF Camp. “Next year we look forward to continuing our positive partnership with the ANCA-WR,” Agopian added.
Located in the Angeles National Forest near the city of Wrightwood, AYF Summer Camp is 11.5 acres of beautiful forestland with facilities to accommodate up to 120 campers each week. The Armenian Youth Federation Summer Camp was established in 1977 and provides a great atmosphere for young Armenians between the ages of eight and seventeen to make new friends, become better acquainted with Armenian history and culture, and participate in a wide array of athletic activities. Each year, Armenian youth from all over the United States and Canada make AYF Summer Camp an integral part of their summer agenda.
The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.