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Group aims to teach public of world events, local impacts

By Chris Nichols Daily Planet Staff
Friday June 28, 2002

Fifty seven years after the original United Nations charter was printed at Berkeley's UC press and sped across the Bay Bridge to the official UN signing ceremony in San Francisco, local residents remain committed to the peace keeping efforts of the international organization. 

For members of the East Bay chapter of the United Nations Association, one of 175 nationwide advocacy groups for the UN, Wednesday's local Charter Day anniversary signified a time to both rejoice and recommit to an important cause. 

“With things like terrorism, it's increasingly important to be aware of international issues,” said Bill Trampleasure, president of the East Bay chapter of the UNA. 

With the mission to educate, advocate and celebrate the work of the UN, the East Bay chapter of the United Nations Association attracts members interested in matters that have an impact both locally and abroad. Members hold conferences and provide input to UN leaders on issues ranging from human rights, to the global impact of private businesses to terrorism. 

While most citizens have at best a hazy idea of what the UN actually does, UNA members say the time is now to inform the public. Members contend that global issues will continue to have a strong impact on the lives of citizens across the United States. 

“We have a saying at our chapter, ‘The American public needs to go from uninformed to UN informed,’ ” Trampleasure said. 

Members of the UNA say more needs to be done to include information about the UN in school curriculum. “Educational materials don't deal with the UN right now. We're not saying that they have to promote the UN as something that is going to save the world but the curriculum should provide basic information on how the UN works,” said Steven Dimoff, Vice President of the Washington DC UNA. 

Dimoff, who along with other chapter leaders from around the nation met Wednesday night at the local Charter Day Banquet in San Francisco, says informing today's youth about the UN is critical.  

Of the current UN staff, approximately 40 percent will retire in the next five years. These retirements will leave many vacancies, according to Dimoff, who also spoke to a group of students at a Peace and Conflicts class at UC Berkeley on Wednesday. 

Support for the United Nations in Berkeley is not limited to the local UNA chapter. The city has flown a UN flag near City Hall, in Civic Center park for at least 19 years, said city worker Vernon Scott.  

Though many local residents were not aware of Wednesday's anniversary, at least one Berkeleyan thought the connection between the UN and the city was appropriate. 

“It seems like something people would associate with Berkeley. Overall I think the UN is a pretty positive thing,” said Houston Gilbert who said he believes international issues are important. “I just finished working with a bunch of EU representatives from a few German scientific organizations. We've been working on the global picture of biotech,” he said. 

Local chapters of the UNA organize forums nationwide in connection with over 5,000 non-governmental agencies, paralleling conferences held by the UN itself.  

According to Trampleasure, the UNA and its chapters have attended an increasing number of conferences recently on topics dealing with atomic weapons, women's rights, AIDS and world health. 

Though UNA members do not generally speak at official UN meetings, the forums they hold do make a difference. “Our physical presence at marches and rallies, sometimes that's the most important thing,” Trampleasure said. “We all try to make the UN visible to people in the community.” 

The East Bay Chapter recently recognized boona cheema, the director of the Berkeley nonprofit Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, with a leadership award for her work with the homeless community. 

The chapter is currently planning events for next week's “National Advocacy Week.” Members are encouraging citizens to meet with their local elected representatives during the week of congressional recess to continue support for a number of key international issues. 

In addition, a 38th anniversary celebration of the East Bay's chapter is scheduled for Aug. 1. The 4th annual UNA Run For Peace is in September. 

According to Mary Lee Trampleasure, Center Director of the local UNA, there has been an increase in interest and membership at the chapter during the last few months. There are currently 330 members at the East Bay chapter.  

After Sept. 11 many local residents bought UN flags from the East Bay chapter instead of purchasing US flags. “They were coming to buy the UN flags until we ran out and the manufacturer ran out too,” she said.