DAGR Letter to Embassy

Regarding distribution of tickets to President Obama’s speech, 27 Nov, 2016

Members of the DAGR ExCom, after a week in planning and another of discussion as to the contents, sent a letter to the Athens Embassy, re the distribution of invitations to President Obama’s speech on Nov 16. While some would have preferred stronger language, the majority felt a ‘soft complaint’ pointing to ‘improved cooperation in the future’ would be acceptable by the wide range of members we represent. Though we had hoped we could recommend members’ sending the letter on to their elected officials, the letter is not without some controversy.* You may want to consider it carefully before hitting the share button. – K. Lee, Chair


 

To the Honorable Geoffrey Pyatt, US Ambassador to Greece

Dear Ambassador Pyatt,

We, members of the Democrats Abroad Greece (DAGR) Executive Committee, would like to share with you the very mixed feelings of our over-1000 members, regarding President Obama’s recent visit to Greece and the distribution of invitations to attend his remarks event at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. 

The visit, almost everyone agrees, was a great success. Obama came, conferred, dined, toured, spoke, inspired and left. He showed understanding of the difficulties Greeks have experienced over the past six years and support for their sacrifices. The optics, as we now call appearances, were positive. His remarks about Democracy in its birthplace, on Wednesday, were eloquent and better received than almost any American pronouncement in our recollection.

However, our experience of the visit defines two matters that we think could stand some improvement.

First, DAGR officially learned of the planned visit via the local press. While you are new to the Embassy here, the lack of liaison on upcoming VIP visits is, unfortunately, not new. 

Second, DAGR was not invited to attend the remarks event until the 11th hour, and then, we received only one ticket. While we were getting word of this school’s or that business interest’s bulk invitations, our members were inquiring if we had tickets to pass out. These inquiries came from high-end contributors to both of Obama’s campaigns and from just-plain members who love and respect this President and many of whom had also given hundreds of hours to the 2008, 2012, and 2016 campaigns. We were forced up until late Monday night to tell them we had no tickets. On Tuesday morning, we could tell them, with some embarrassment, that we had one invitation and the Chair would be using it.

Had we had 10 or 20 invitations, as some organizations in Athens received, we would have been faced with finding an equitable way to distribute them. That would have been a welcome problem! As it was, we shared our frustration with members. We let them know that Democrats Abroad had been waiting by the phone along with Republicans Overseas and other organizations that represent Americans here in Greece. We used the experience to urge their help in growing our membership even more and becoming a voice that could not be ignored.

It is not in our ‘portfolio’ to investigate why this near-slight occurred, though the question has been raised by a number of members. We understand that as a political party committee, even the one that supported the Obama and Clinton campaigns, favoritism in regards a publicly funded trip is inappropriate and should not be expected. We also realize that there can be directives from Washington such as ‘fill the room with young faces,’ and that fulfilling all the considerations may mean some of us are disappointed. That said, the distribution of invitations occurred in such a way that our members, taxpayers who help fund the President’s travel, wondered why their inclusion was a low priority.

We would like to develop better cooperation with the Embassy and with the schedulers for upcoming visits by American officials. DAGR promoted the Embassy’s Vote Casting party in October, at some expense to our own get-out-the-vote time and efforts. But, it was a good model for future shared activity. We would also like to be a better conduit to the Embassy for issues of particular concern to American citizens living in Greece. We would like to be kept in the loop, to be cultivated, to be involved in future Embassy-sponsored activities, to work together as multipliers to help promote American values and interests in Greece.

We are prepared to discuss all of this with you, at your convenience, and to define ways in which we can further our relationship with the Embassy.

Respectfully,

Undersigned members of the Democrats Abroad Greece Executive Committee, 2015-17:

Karen Lee, Chair

Steve Medeiros, Vice Chair

Charity Moschopoulos, Secretary

Alexandra Jelkes, Counsel

James Katsinis, At-Large Representative

Amalia Kalogridakis, At-Large Representative

Marion Kavallieros, Athens Chapter Chair

Christine Lewis, Athens Chapter Representative

John Lewis, Thessaloniki Chapter Representative

* The letter was sent to the Ambassador via his personal assistant and to Consul General Rosemary Maccray, in whose purview falls American Citizen Services. It was also cc’d to DA international Chair Katie Solon, who expressed concern that we had not consulted her in its preparation, as she had sent her own note supporting our cause, to the Ambassador on the night of Nov 14. She noted that the mention of member-donors and taxpayers might not have been of priority concern in invitation decisions and, therefore, not appropriate in the letter. We have replied, mea culpa, to the DA Chair. We also sent a note to CG, offering to discuss the letter. Ms Maccray replied that they appreciated our feedback.