Washington, D.C.- Some changes that occur in this yearʼs White House Greek Independence Day event left out at least 50 of the usual participants, raising some biter feelings and complaints. Amongst the groups that lost seats were AHEPA, SAE and the Greek American press that was limited to only three journalists.
AHEPA issued a statement complaining that some of its members didnʼt receive an invitation and sent a similar letter to President Barack Obama. Other organizations, such as the Archons, the Cyreek American Chamber of Commerce and the Hellenic American Leadership Council sent “thank you” letters to the President, while Andrew Athens, President Emeritus of SAE and Chairman of UHAC, in a letter reminded every one complaining that “that such an invitation is a privilege not a right”. Athens is pointing out the fact that instead of 20 people, more than 200 are attending the event, thanks to the Archdiocese of America and the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes. Greek News is printing the letters of the AHEPA and Andrew Athens.
“The National President of the largest and oldest Greek heritage grass roots association sent a letter yesterday to President Barack Obama today expressing displeasure over the management of Greek Independence Day celebration at The White House held March 25, 2009.
“Despite proactive outreach to the White House, and several attempts to offer AHEPA’s resources to your Public Liaison Office, many integral people involved in our leadership, including the National Presidents of our junior auxiliaries, were left off of the invitation list for the March 25th festivities,” wrote Ike Gulas, National President of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), a leading membership-based organization for the nation’s three million American citizens of Greek heritage, and Philhellenes. “Therefore, I feel it is my duty to call to your attention this failure to recognize AHEPA’s status in the Greek American community and to treat it accordingly.”
In addition, Gulas cited the lateness with which electronic invites were issued, making it difficult for invitees to travel to Washington at such late notice, and questioned the overall vetting process of the invites.
Gulas requested a meeting to discuss ways in which AHEPA and the new administration can work together to better the lives of Greek-Americans and the nation.
Today (Friday March 27, 2009), Gulas and His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, spoke via conference call to discuss the matter. Both leaders agreed that several important community-service leaders were not extended invitations, and discussed how such oversights can be avoided in the future.
LETTER OF ANDREW ATHENS
“Why did the White House (under Regan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and now Obama) ask the Greek-American community to do them a favor and come to the White House? The answer is they havenʼt.
Most American CEOs, university presidents, mayors, state legislators, great athletes, and labor leaders want to be but are never invited to the White House to meet with the President of the United States. All nationalities want such a meeting but only the Irish (the second largest nationality in America) and Greeks (only half of one percent of the U.S. population) have had such a meeting each year for 23 years.
How have Hellenes moved to the front of the line of thousands of powerful, multimillion-dollars-a-year spending groups who want such an invitation? Unimaginable work and many months of great effort by the Archdiocese, the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH) and select other key individuals (as was the case with Alexi Giannoulias this year), and a gracious appreciation of democracy and Greece by the White House. It is done because the substantive value of this annual Presidential meeting is immeasurable.
Which Hellenes should be invited to such a White House meeting? It should probably be the twenty most successful and powerful Greek-American corporate leaders, federal, state and local public servants, lawyers, doctors, scholars, celebrities, labor leaders, media stars, mothers, scientists, athletes, restaurateurs, students and military leaders.
However, the Archdiocese and CEH have convinced the White House to invite Hellenic organization leaders. This year the Obama White House invited a large number of Senators, Members of Congress, state legislators and other non-organization leaders. As a result, far fewer Greek-American organization leaders were invited and almost all invited were invited without their spouses. As well, like all first year administrations still staffing up, the mechanics of early invitations have not yet been worked out.
Washington insiders understand that such an invitation is a privilege not a right. And we realize what a rare opportunity this is and we appreciate it greatly.”
Andrew A. Athens
World Council of Hellenes (SAE)
Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH)
United Hellenic American Congress (UHAC)