Fighting for Hellenic issues in Washington, D.C.

HALC’s annual advocacy conference

By Georgia Logothetis

This week, Hellenic American Leadership Council members traveled to Washington, D.C. for HALC’s annual advocacy conference. The conference, held in conjunction with the American Jewish Committee, works to advance not just Hellenic issues but the issue of regional stability and security as well. It’s a yearly tradition for our organization, and one that’s critically important to the diaspora.

Grassroots advocacy is about more than petitions and letters to the editors. Those aspects of advocacy are integral to fighting for change, but they are tools in a wider advocacy arsenal. Petitions and letters help to change and drive media narratives — especially fighting back against negative media narratives of Greece or Cyprus. Direct advocacy in the form of meetings with Members of Congress or their staff, however, have a different impact.

To fully appreciate how important these grassroots “lobbying” sessions are, we must begin by acknowledging that for the most part, members of Congress are not fluent in Hellenic issues. They’ll know the top lines, of course, from reading the papers — that the Greek debt crisis is still going on, that negotiations to end the illegal occupation of Cyprus are in a bit of a rut, that Turkey is clamping down on human rights — but generally, that’s the breadth of their knowledge. Unless they sit on a committee that deals with foreign policy or national security and the like, they don’t have occasion to regularly stay up-to-date on Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.

That’s where groups like HALC come in. Throughout the year, our leadership is in constant contact with key individuals on Capitol Hill, updating them and educating them on the latest policy and news developments in the region. Our staff authors policy briefs that help to inform members of Congress and their staff about the effects of those top-line news headlines.

That helps to educate Congress about Hellenic issues. The next step is conveying to them that Hellenic issues matter to their constituents and to American foreign policy. That’s where advocacy conferences like the one taking place this week come in.

As I mentioned, HALC hosts the conference in close partnership with the American Jewish Committee. HALC’s strong working relationship with the AJC over the years has helped to stress the vital importance of the Eastern Mediterranean as a whole and the trilateral relationship between Greece, Cyprus and Israel. It’s why the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance (CHIA) caucus was formed in February 2013 by Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) and why it has become one of the most active foreign policy issue caucuses in Congress.

CHIA currently features over 40 bipartisan members, including leading members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Our members visited congressional offices, update and educated members on Hellenic issues. These in-person meetings are incredibly effective. They show members of Congress that their constituents and the Hellenic American diaspora in general cares deeply about these issues and that these issues should matter to anyone who cares regional defense, foreign policy, human rights, and energy issues in the eastern Mediterranean.

Check out some photos from our advocacy trip and if you’re interested in attending next year, send us an email at contact@hellenicleaders.com.