Following up on my last blog post, I returned this past Sunday from a very successful trip to Washington, D.C. I couldn’t have asked for better weather for driving back and forth. The leaves are just beginning to change and it looks like nature will give us a spectacular show this fall.
Once in Washington I made my way to the offices of McBee Strategic, the firm hired by the American Fraternal Alliance to engage legislators in the effort to protect the tax-exempt status of fraternal benefit societies like the Polish Falcons of America. I met with Executive Vice President Jenn Fogel-Bublick and Associate Allison Johnson. Jenn and Allison planned all my visits that day. Over lunch we discussed the schedule for the day and discussed the presentation to the Senator’s staff.
Allison then accompanied me to the Senate office buildings (across the street from the Capitol Building) for our meetings. The first two stops were at the offices of the two Connecticut Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy. Following those two meetings we then visited the offices of the two senators from Pennsylvania, Robert Casey and Pat Toomey. While I did not meet directly with any of the Senators I did meet with the legislative staffers who work on these issues.
It is important to remember that while the Senators, or Congressmen, actually make speeches, run for election, cast votes, etc., it is the staffers who do the real leg work in the congressional offices. They do the research, write the legislation, and like in my visit, they conduct many of the meetings with constituents. It is rare to get quality one-on-one face time with a United States Senator. What is amazing is that I would peg the average age of the congressional staff somewhere in the mid-20s. These are all young people who have great responsibility in the legislative process.
The message at all the meetings was essentially the same. First, while there is no specific legislation or action on the table threatening the exemption now, Allison explained the nature and importance of fraternals in the U.S. She provided each office with a folder of information about fraternals that was specifically tailored for each state. I then told the story about the Polish Falcons and the role we play for our members and in our communities.
Two examples I cited were the Penguin Plunge sponsored by Nest 519, Middletown, Conn., and the work that Nest 163, Mocanaqua, Pa., did for flood relief victims in that area.
All of the meetings were positive and we were well received. I believe we were hugely successful in creating a greater awareness of the importance of fraternal benefit societies, and of the Polish Falcons of America. I am confident that if this issue does arise in the upcoming battle over tax reform that these Senators will support our cause. I did learn that Sen. Murphy was the founder of the Polish Caucus in the Senate. I did not know he was Polish until the meeting.
One final note on the meetings is that all the staffers were open to the idea that we should invite the Senators to our events. We should take advantage of this. What better way to tell our story than to see it first-hand. It is one thing for me to go Washington and meet with staff and tell them about the Polish Falcons. It is entirely another for a U.S. Senator to visit one of our Nests, shake the hands of Falcons and really get to know who we are. I plan to reach out to Nests and Districts in this regard in the near future to see if there are opportunities for Senators and Congressmen to visit with us.
I want to thank Joe Annotti, American Fraternal Alliance President, Jenn Fogel-Bublick and Allison Johnson from McBee Strategic for all the work they did in arranging these meetings for me.
The following day I attended the second annual Conference of the American Polish Advisory Council (APAC). APAC is headed by Gen. Edward Rowny, former U.S. Arms Negotiator with the Soviet Union under President Reagan. The topics presented at the conference were interesting and well done. I estimate that about 50 people were in attendance.
Andrew Nagorski, a noted Polish-American journalist, gave a keynote address on his newly-published book, “Hitlerland”, the story of Hitler’s rise to Poland and the perspectives of Americans to Hitler in Germany at that time. His presentation was excellent and of course I had to buy a copy of the book afterward. (I did have the opportunity to meet Mr. Nagorski several years ago at a meeting of the World Affairs Council in Pittsburgh.)
Next, Ian Brzezinski chaired a panel that focused on current U.S.-Poland strategic relations. (Ian Brzezinski is the son of noted foreign policy expert Zbigniew Brzezinski) The main theme of the presentations was that the U.S.-Poland relationship is strong and it must be even stronger in the face of renewed threats from Russia to destabilize the region. The security of Poland is essential for a stable and secure Europe. And the support of the U.S. for Poland’s defense is essential to this security.
There was also a panel chaired by Will Schreiber, of APAC, on the status of the Visa Waiver issue. The proposal is currently a part of the larger immigration overhaul reform bill that was passed by the Senate but is still being debated in the House. The future of the legislation is still uncertain. The panel discussed the situation and possible solutions if the proposal dies along with immigration reform.
Finally, there was a brief presentation from a new organization, the Polish Warriors Foundation, which is seeking support to help wounded Polish soldiers in Poland.
Overall, the conference was informative. I learned new things, bought a book, and met a lot of interesting people in the Polish American Community. I should add that the Polish Falcons were acknowledged for being a supporter in the program book. Any time we can create awareness for the PFA that is a positive for us.
Polish American Congress
I am actually writing this blog in my hotel room in Chicago, Ill., as I am here for the Polish American Congress (PAC) National Council of Directors Meeting. Polish Falcons has been an important part of the PAC since its founding in 1944. Since its inception the PAC has been the leading Polish American organization in the U.S. to advance the cause of Poland and Polish Americans.
The National Council of Directors meets twice a year, usually in Chicago. I serve as National Secretary for the PAC. The President of Polish Falcons has traditionally held this position, the same way the President of the Polish National Alliance serves as the President of the PAC.
Also at the PAC meeting is Druh Steve Flor, a member of PFA Nest 52 Rochester, N.Y. Druh Steve is the PFA District IX representative to the PAC Western New York Division and a National Director representative from the Division to the National Council of Directors Meeting. Druh Steve is an enthusiastic activist in the Polish American Community and we are fortunate to have him in the ranks of the Polish Falcons.
There are many challenges facing the PAC. First and foremost is funding. Earlier this year difficult decisions had to be made, specifically the office in Chicago was closed leaving only the office in Washington. Fundraising efforts are being planned but there is still a lot of work to do.
There is also the issue of the mission of the PAC. While Poland was a communist country the goal was simple—a free and independent Poland. That mission was accomplished a while ago. Poland is thriving. There have been issues that have galvanized the PAC since then (i.e. Poland’s inclusion into NATO) but that is in the past now too. The Visa Waiver issue is still being fought but it does not create the same kind of emotion as the fight against communism or the NATO issue.
Polish Americans absolutely need a strong effective organization to unite our community. There are many Polish organizations in the U.S.—cultural, educational, fraternal, etc. We need one organization that unites us and brings us together under one umbrella. The Polish American Congress is that organization. If we have a strong, united voice, people will listen to us.
My role with the PAC is to help make the organization as strong as possible. And if the PAC is strong and the PFA is an integral part of the PAC then we will all benefit from these relationships.
While in Chicago, I will have the honor of attending the 140th Anniversary Banquet of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA) this Saturday (Oct. 5). I am certain this will be a fabulous affair. I will be attending with District II President Paul Sadowski and his wife Beth.
PRCUA President Joe Drobot and his wife Judy attended our Convention and Anniversary celebration last July in Pittsburgh. I am glad to be able to represent the PFA at their anniversary.