The UN: Vital, Relevant & Misunderstood

September 20, 2011|by Patrick Madden, UNA-USA Executive Director
As I pen this edition of my World Bulletin contribution, the 66th Annual General Assembly has already opened, and this week we will see the real fireworks. The “quiet phase” of the General Assembly is where a great deal of the action really happens. However, few know of the “quiet phase” since heavyweight world leaders descend on New York City this week for main stage speeches – and the media pays attention – at least for a few days.

In my six months as the head of UNA, I have quickly come to understand one of the UN’s biggest problems – the media and its message. The UN is so dense, so complex, and so broad. I think the media has given up on trying to understand it, and attempting to give it a fair shake in coverage – except for the speeches. Beyond September speeches, Security Council votes, nuclear crisis, or natural disaster, it’s difficult to find the UN’s work in your daily paper. Even in New York City and Washington, DC.

In my research (admittedly, not scientific and completely based on my personal and professional travels to red, blue, and purple states), I’ve found that citizens are not only curious about international issues, but also smart enough to consider and discuss a range of topics regarding foreign policy that aren’t wrapped in drama or controversy. Yes, that probably doesn’t sell papers. However, this week there will be speeches offered at the UN that may make American citizens uncomfortable (because they directly challenge the US government’s position on foreign policy issues) and some votes that you may personally disagree with (the vote considering the Palestine Authority’s membership into the UN) – this sells papers.

So my effort here is to get you beyond the headlines of the UN’s General Assembly:


These are just a few of the “non-speeches” that are occurring at the UN during this General Assembly. The real work of the UN doesn’t always get headlines, but its work is relevant, vital, and makes an impact in the lives of millions every day.

As UNA-USA members I hope you’ll quench your thirst for the details on the UN’s work and you will learn more on the websites. Pass this along to friends. Spark up a conversation over your next coffee with neighbors. We need more citizens to become active with their interest in UN. With that, we can expect that the citizenry will hold their elected officials more accountable when it comes to the U.S.’s global engagement.

One final note: There are efforts beyond First Avenue this week to move the public past the headlines. The 2nd Annual Social Good Summit is a gathering of bloggers, influential minds and passionate activists to unlock the potential of new media and technology. Check out the wide range of speakers discussing the UN, international issues, and join the conversations in New York via Livestream

Labels: From the Executive Director, World Bulletin