2012 Polish American conference
Posted on: October 6, 2012
WASHINGTON, DC - Over 150 Polish-American community leaders participated in the 2012 Polish American conference, organized by the American Polish Advisory Council on September 29, 2012 in Washington DC, where senior representatives of both US presidential campaigns received the American Polish Platform, a document listing Polish-American concerns ahead of the national election.
The day-long conference consisted of several panels and speeches on topics of interest to the community, but a common theme that echoed throughout the day was the need for greater political involvement among Polish-Americans. Data compiled by the Piast Institute, a national research and policy center for Polonia, cited a lack of the ethnic group's political involvement and its inability to be more effective politically as two of four top issues important to Polish Americans today.
Board member and APAC Secretary Darek Barcikowski led a discussion on Polish Americans and politics, asking panelists including former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, Chicago’s Victor Forys and the mayor of Hamtramck, MI, Karen Majewski about their experiences engaging the Polish American community in their respective campaigns for public office. “We identified over 20,000 Polish names on the voter rosters and called each and every single one of them,” said Bysiewicz of her grassroots campaign for the office of Connecticut State Representative in 1993. “I was told time and again that my Polish last name would help me in Connecticut.”
Majewski had the upper hand in her first mayoral campaign, since Hamtramck, Michigan has yet to see a non-Polish mayor. “I was pulled into politics, but my Polish-American heritage played a significant role,” said Majewski who said she wished Polish American were more willing to support their candidates financially. “Even ten dollars makes a difference,” she added.
Barcikowski closed the panel by stressing the importance of APAC’s mission to involve Polish Americans in the political process; to increase the number, visibility and influence of Polish Americans in public affairs, and to improve communications among Polish Americans holding appointed and elective office or involved in public service campaigns and public policy.
Former Speaker of the House and former Republican presidential nominee Newt Gingrich called on Polonia to attend town hall meetings and get involved at the grassroots level. “Looking at recent media coverage it may seem that politics is all about money and lobbying, but the truth is that it all really starts and goes back to the grassroots level. Polish Americans needs to identify a set of issues and work at the local level so that when Congressmen and women go back home, they will hear about them, said Gingrich.
It a list of these very Polish-American issues that was the main focus of the day. The Polish American Platform was presented to representatives of both presidential campaigns by Thaddeus Kontek, 2012 Chair for the American Polish Platform. This manifesto of Polish-American priority issues was received by J.T. Jezierski, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Mitt Romney Campaign -- and by Marilyn Piurek, a member of the DNC’s Ethnic Coordinating Council Executive Committee and the National Polish Americans for Obama Committee. Both are Polish Americans.
The Polish American agenda listed six issues ranging from jobs and tax reform to community specific matters such as the inclusion of Poland in the visa waiver program and lack of Polish – American representation in government. Jezierski stressed Romney’s commitment to the Polish American community and reminded the audience of the governor's trip to Poland earlier this summer. Piurek commented on president Obama’s achievements in each area mentioned in the Platform.
A banquet-style luncheon featured the first public remarks of the newly appointed Polish Ambassador the US, Ryszard Schnepf. Following an introduction by APAC Vice President Ian Brzezinski, Schnepf identified three issues which would shape his tenure as Polish Ambassador the United States: security, promotion of democracy and building contacts with the Polish-American community. He also identified energy corporation as a major focus of his mission. “Our embassy will be a forum for all of you to participate in the discussion on strengthening Polish and US relations,” said Schnepf.
The next speaker was Bill Burton, senior strategist of the PrioritiesUSA, the pro-Obama so-called super PAC, and a former Deputy White House Press Secretary. Burton talked about his own Polish-American roots, before moving on to question and answers with the audience on presidential campaign tactics.
The afternoon session began with the a panel on trade and commerce led by board member and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Susanne Lotarski. Speakers of the economic panel included Adam Wilczewski, Chief of staff at the International Trade Administration, Matthew Murray, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Europe and Eurasia, Luke Myers of the US Polish Business Council, and Andrzej Kazmierczak of the National Bank of Poland. Panelists stressed the importance of continuous economic relations between Poland and the US. Current US investment is valued at over 20 billion dollars. Polish investment in the US was valued at 100 million just two years ago. Today, that number has increased to half a billion and is expected to top one billion dollars by the end of 2013.
Luke Myers, policy director at the US Poland Business Council suggested the two year old organization was an initiative that was called for by US companies. Today, the council includes 30 of the biggest US players on the Polish market.
A keynote address was delivered by former US Ambassador to Estonia, Aldona Woss who presented the personal story of grandparents who were persecuted in occupied Poland and the influence her heritage has had on her work in the field of promoting democracy.
A cocktail reception concluded the conference, with brief remarks from Paul Sabaj who represented the Polish Student Organization, Inc., an umbrella organization for Polish American student clubs based in New York City. “Polish American students want to get involved in the visa waiver issue,” said Sabaj. “We have collected over 1,500 signatures and will urge all our members to write letters to their legislators,” he added. “We are delighted to be here and want to work closely with the American Polish Advisory Council on this issue.”
In his final remarks, APAC’s president, Ambassador/LTG Edward L. Rowny thanked all who attended the conference as well as the APAC members who have worked tirelessly over the last few months to put the event together. “Many have suggested that we need such events to happen more frequently, and I am pleased to announce our second annual Polish American Conference in September of 2013.” Rowny also suggested that the day’s events and discussions have validated APAC’s mission and the need for Polonia to become more politically active. He expressed his appreciation to many young Polish – Americans who had traveled from as far as California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Massachusetts to participate in the conference.
“I am very pleased to be here, said Patrick Peczerski who led a group of young Polish Americans who traveled from Wisconsin to attend the conference. “There are so many experienced Polish Americans here, I hope APAC can hold workshops in Wisconsin to help engage our local community, maybe even through the internet.” Similar sentiments were many. Tomasz Lichwala traveled to the conference from Phoenix, Arizona and also extended an invitation to APAC board members to come and speak about Polish Americans and politics in Phoenix. “We have many cultural organizations and events, but we need to be able to speak on behalf of our community politically,” said Lichwala.
The conference also attracted wide media coverage both before and during the event. Polish – American media including the White Eagle, Polonia Today Online, Kurier Plus, the Polish American Journal, Polishupdate.com and Super Express have partnered with the American Polish Advisory Council to help promote the conference. Washington, DC correspondents representing media networks in Poland including ITVN, Polsat, TV Polonia, Polskie Radio and the Polish Press Agency covered the conference for audiences on the other side of the Atlantic.