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Armed and Dangerous

Our Town
By Jon Melegrito
Our Town by Jon MelegritoWhen delegates to the NaFFAA Conference meet in Seattle next month, they will be electing a new set of national officers who will lead the organization into a period when its number one challenge continues to be daunting, almost impossible.
Raising money.
NaFFAA’s coffers are literally empty. It may lose its Washington office if the $1,500/month rent (now two months behind) is not covered. The full-time executive director does not get compensated regularly. Other bills remain unpaid, including membership dues in key coalitions, like the Leadership Conference in Civil Rights and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA).
It’s always been a hand-to-mouth existence for NaFFAA from the very beginning.
I know because I was there. The meager funds that would come in – mostly from grants – would just be enough to pay the bills. Nothing left for program and development, the very source of energy needed to fuel the engine so NaFFAA can get to where it’s going.
We’re half way there, but it’s been very slow.
Given this dire situation, it’s heartening to note that there are leaders “crazy” enough to still want to lead NaFFAA. Two candidates for national chair are vying for the post with equal passion and resolve: Greg Macabenta of San Francisco is publisher of Filipinas Magazine and president of Minority Media Services, Inc. Ernie Ramos of Miami is a former legislative assistant to Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fl.). Both bring different skills and sets of experiences to the table.
But other than their commitment to NaFFAA’s mission and commendable willingness to serve, the most critical is a demonstrated ability to raise funds immediately. Not in one year, or two years, but right away.
It’s that desperate.
Start-up grants were easier to come by in the early years – thanks to Alex Esclamado, the first national chair. His strong belief in a unified and empowered FilAm community making a difference in U.S. society convinced banks and corporations like Wells Fargo to support NaFFAA. But after a certain period, those very same supporters expect certain “deliverables.” After all, their bottom line is – to put it bluntly – “what’s in it for me?”
To make matters worse, the perception that NaFFAA was more in tune with Philippine politics – given the lopsided attention to such issues as overseas voting and dual citizenship – discouraged potential donors.
Both Greg and Ernie have vowed to focus NaFFAA’s attention mainly to U.S. domestic issues such as voting rights, voter education, youth leadership, business development and of course civil rights advocacy. With year-round programs developed around each of these issues, NaFFAA will no doubt attract funders who will seize on the mutual benefits stemming from such partnerships.
It is vitally important for NaFFAA’s national office to be functional – with its own headquarters adequately staffed not only with an executive director but a program director as well. In addition to strengthening the organization’s infrastructure, NaFFAA also needs to assert its presence in Congress, in policy-making circles and in coalitions where collective action is the key to achieving desired results.
The two-year campaign to win passage of a Filipino Veterans Equity bill is a case in point. NaFFAA, along with the Philippine Embassy, formed the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE). It includes not only Filipino American organizations and veterans groups. It also drew the active participation of civil rights groups like the Japanese American Citizens League, the Asian American Justice Center, NAACP, and Jewish War Veterans of the United States. With a paid professional staff, this broad coalition was able to mobilize grassroots activists to visit congressional offices, write letters and e-mails and make phone calls.
To win any significant civil rights legislation in the U.S. Congress, one must be “armed and dangerous.” Meaning, well-funded and powerful enough to scare the hell out of people in the Hill if they don’t pay attention.
NaFFAA is far from being armed and dangerous. But we’re halfway there.
But to get there, NaFFAA must recapture the excitement and euphoria of August 1997 when over a thousand community leaders converged in the nation’s capital, staged a “Second Death March” to dramatize the plight of Filipino Veterans, demanded “Justice and Equity Now!” and vowed to fight for affirmative action, welfare reform and immigrant rights. Delegates also committed to establishing a national presence by funding an office and full-time staff. NaFFAA’s immediate goal was to reach out to all FilAm organizations across the country – not to serve as an “umbrella” but to build on their strengths and energies while respecting their independence and autonomy.
Never mind who the leaders were who started this whole thing – although much credit goes to them for making it happen. Think, instead, of our own pride. Pride in carrying on despite extreme difficulties. Pride in completing something we started – for the sake of our community and our children.
Misteps and mistakes are always inevitable – part of the birth pangs and growing pains. But to despair is not an option.
To be armed and dangerous is.

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