Community members celebrated the 66th anniversary of the United Nations with a flag raising ceremony at the on Sunday afternoon.
Village President Julie Siegel welcomed roughly 20 community members to the event and tried to form a relation between Whitefish Bay and the United Nations. Although Whitefish Bay residents do not have to worry about land mines blowing up in their backyards or alongside the road, Siegel said citizens still face threats to their safety, like the one she said is posed by Wisconsin’s adoption of the concealed carry law. As a result, Whitefish Bay has .
“Whitefish Bay is a community where we can feel safe, and that doesn’t happen in a lot of places,” Siegel said.
Joe Sauer, Scout Master of Whitefish Bay’s Troop 400, also compared the Boy Scouts to the United Nations. Sauer said the Boy Scouts, like the UN, try to promote peace and reconciliation. Boy Scout headquarters resides in Geneva, Switzerland, which is also an important location for UN activity.
Before 2011, Sauer said Wisconsin was the only state with a governor’s commission to the UN. Although Gov. Scott Walker discontinued this commission at the beginning of his term, Sauer remained hopeful that the commission would be reinstated.
“Walker was an Eagle Scout,” Sauer said, “So we’re working on that.”
Joan Robertson, lifelong Whitefish Bay resident and member of the Milwaukee chapter of the United Nations Association, began the anniversary celebrations six years ago in order to stimulate community awareness of the United Nations. In the years prior, she and other association members had promoted the anniversary by loaning flags to community schools and other public entities, like the library. Those locations still fly the flags, but she said she wanted to do more.
Robertson became interested in the United Nations at a young age. Her mother worked for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which maintains an office with the United Nations. Robertson’s mother also worked closely with Jane Addams, who was one of the Progressive Era’s most prominent social and political activists. With the United Nations and activism in her blood, Robertson thought a tribute seemed fitting.
Robertson presented former Village President Katie Pritchard with an award of appreciation for coordinating the activities over the past six years. Pritchard enlisted the involvement of Boy Scout Troop 400, which has participated every year. Pritchard was unable to attend the celebration, but a monetary gift was made to Planning Council for Health and Human Services, of which Pritchard is president and CEO. Robertson said she hopes to honor Pritchard more fully at next year’s event.
Debbie Metke, President of Milwaukee’s chapter of the United Nations Association, also presented a program to raise awareness for the international banning of land mines and cluster bombs. Despite pressure from both national and global communities, Metke said the United States still refuses to sign an international treaty that would ban the use, manufacturing and stockpiling of land mines.
Metke, who is also the President of Milwaukee’s chapter o f Citizens for Global Solutions, urged event attendees not to forget about land mines and cluster bombs. In the time it took her to make her 45-minute presentation, Metke said one person in the world would die in a land mine-related incident.
Despite the fact that 20,000 people – 70 percent of which are civilians– die every year from land mines, Metke said awareness has been weak, as most incidents occur in third world countries.
“If we had (land mines) here, we’d be paying more attention,” she said.
As of September, 157 countries have signed the Ottawa Treaty, which officially bans the use, manufacturing and stockpiling of land mines. The United States, along with other nations like China, Russia, and Israel, has chosen not to sign the treaty, citing security concerns.
The United States currently has 10 million land mines stockpiled, but gives $1.5 billion every year for affected areas to clear land mines and treat victims, Metke said. She said 68 United States senators and 16 Nobel Peace laureates have urged President Barack Obama to sign the treaty.
“The trouble is that a lot of nations don’t want to give up their power,” she said.
Metke said Whitefish Bay residents can help out by educating themselves and those around them and by showing empathy towards the people in other countries that deal with the debilitating fear of land mines every day.
Carol Alexander, Robertson’s granddaughter, said she got involved through Rotaract, which is part of the Rotary Club. She attended a conference, specifically for young professionals ages 18 to 30, at the UN headquarters in New York City that discussed global issues.
Alexander said Milwaukee’s chapter of the UN Association is hoping to get more young adults involved in UN activities.
“You’ve got to revamp it and make it seem exciting and new,” she said.