From Apprehension to Anticipation: Meeting with your Member of Congress

Reflections from Washington DC by Arbi Vartan, University of California, Berkeley - Class of 2009

July 17, 2008

The air is still, stale even.

I sit in a jet-black leather armchair while the collar of my white dress shirt grows tighter by the minute. Beads of sweat drip from my temple. My throat is parched, but as I motion toward the water cooler to quench my thirst I hear a commanding voice call my name. The time has come…

This is what I thought it would feel like to meet with my congressman.

I was wrong.

As a 2008 ANCA Leo Sarkisian intern in Washington DC, meeting with my congressman has been one of my most enjoyable experiences thus far. The melodramatic description above–which I must say is quite reminiscent of a poem by Edgar Allen Poe–touches upon the stigma many have attached to meeting face-to-face with their elected officials.

I used to be one of those individuals who dreaded meeting with their congressman, but after meeting with him I came to the realization that establishing a relationship with an elected official is very easy and completely devoid of stress.

I walked into Congressman Schiff’s office, but the voice I thought would be commanding and authoritative was actually calm and inviting. The congressman greeted me with a smile; we introduced ourselves and even shared a few laughs about the college rivalry between Stanford and UC Berkeley.

When it came time to talk about Armenian-American issues and ask questions, I found solace in my preparation for the meeting. I had organized topics I wanted to discuss, researched the Congressman Schiff’s stance on these issues, and then prioritized them by their importance to me. I also jotted a couple pressing questions down I wanted to ask the congressman.

At the end of the day, who better to talk to about your views than someone whose job is to represent you in Congress? The best part is that this person is always just one web-fax, email, or phone call away.

It is without question that personally meeting with your representative is especially empowering, but I have come to learn that every effort from a web-fax to a personal meeting makes a huge impact on the promotion of Armenian-American issues in Congress.

From my early experiences as an intern at the ANC Western Region office to my term as President of the UC Berkeley Armenian Student Association, I have come to see first-hand the power of grassroots activism; however, it was not until I spent time in our nation’s capitol as an intern with the Armenian National Committee of America that I came to appreciate the true power we hold in our hands.

One of the reasons I came to Washington DC was to be at the core of Armenian-American political activism. Now that I am more than half-way through this 8 week long intensive internship, I have learned that Hai Tad’s core lies not within one office, but within the hearts of Armenian activists everywhere.

Grassroots activism. That is what is making the difference.

The Leo Sarkisian internship has provided me with a number of unique and fun opportunities to further my understanding of the world of Armenian-American political activism. Later today, I even get to attend a Congressional baseball game where I watch Democrats duke it out with Republicans in a baseball diamond!

Events like this baseball game remind me how silly my original apprehension was about meeting with my congressman. Now, with only a few hours left until this baseball game, all that is left to do is decide who I am going to cheer for!


Photo Caption: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) with ANCA Leo Sarkisian intern Arbi Vartan.

For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Arbi Vartan
Email / Tel: (202) 775-1918 / (703) 585-8254 cell
Armenian National Committee of America
1711 N Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036
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