Earlier this month, Greenheart’s External Relations Manager, Bonnie Washick, flew to Washington, DC to speak with government representatives about our exchange programs. She joined the Alliance for International Exchange and over 100 representatives from other cultural exchange organizations to share the positive impact of these programs across the United States. Together, they met with representatives from nearly 150 Congressional offices!
Yesterday, I sat down to talk with Bonnie about her trip:
What were you most excited to speak about with Members of Congress?
“That’s tough, but I’d have to go with: Exchange Day. Exchange Day is the new name for J Day. At each office my ‘Team Illinois’ visited, we spoke about a big Exchange Day celebration that we’re planning on August 5th in Greenheart’s hometown – Chicago, Illinois. One of the reasons for changing the name of J Day to Exchange Day is that we wanted to make it clear to the public—and to our representatives—what the celebration was all about: cultural exchange and the positive impact that it has on our lives and communities.”
The good news: the new name is working! Bonnie shared that representatives from Senator Richard Durbin, Senator Tammy Duckworth, and Congressman Danny Davis’s office all expressed interest in participating in Exchange Day this year. You’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for details of our Exchange Day celebration in Chicago, similar events around the country, and even the globe!
What else did you talk about?
“We asked our Members of Congress to continue funding the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at existing levels.” Bonnie explained, “ECA funding translates into salaries and other support for the ECA staff in Washington, DC who make Greenheart’s Work and Travel, Teach USA, Career Advancement Program, and High School exchanges possible. In addition, this funding provides scholarships for Future Leader Exchange (FLEX) students and Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) students, like Greenheart alumna Sara Al-Zyoud. ECA funds also support other State Department exchanges, like the Sister-City program that I participated in when I was a teenager.”
Bonnie added, “Asking our representatives to appropriately fund ECA staff and scholarship programs is incredibly important given a recent recommendation from the White House Office of Management and Budget to cut ECA funding by almost 56%, from $700.9 million to 309.6 million.”
Wow, that’s a big cut. Should we be worried?
“I would say that we should be prepared to continue to advocate for these programs. Our Members of Congress need to hear about the positive impact that these programs have, especially from Americans who have direct experience with them as hosts, colleagues, friends, or participants. Last year, the administration proposed an even larger cut to ECA funding—about 75%—and that didn’t happen. What we can learn from this is that sharing our stories works, but we need to keep doing it.”
Is there anything else that you want to share?
“There was one more thing, which gets a bit technical. Simply put, we asked our representatives to retain a legal protection for the State Department’s Exchange Visitor Program, called an ‘appropriations directive.’ This appropriations directive requires that changes to the program undergo a transparent review process. It was first introduced in 2017 in response to a plan to cut several programs, including the Summer Work Travel, Intern, and Trainee exchanges. Adding this protection demonstrates how impactful our advocacy efforts can be. Keeping it ensures that our government representatives and people like us—exchange alumni, hosts, and other members of the exchange community—have a chance to share how exchange programs benefit us as individuals, support our communities, and foster mutual understanding.”
Last question: How can Greenheart community members get more involved in advocacy for cultural exchange?
I love this question! Anyone can read through our new advocacy e-zine, 3 Priorities for Cultural Exchange Advocacy in 2019, to get a better understanding of the challenges we’re facing and how we’re working to respond to these challenges. You can also keep an eye out for a Call-In/Write-In campaign we’re coordinating during Exchange Week in the District (April 15-19). Check out our Advocacy page the first week in April for details about that campaign and resources that will empower you to reach out to your representatives!