The "Whitehead Initiative"


On 30 October, 1995, John C. Whitehead, Chairman of the United Nations Association-USA and former Chairman of Goldman, Sachs & Co. investment banking firm, wrote a letter in his personal capacity to UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, enclosing a check for $44. He wrote that this sum represented the per capital share of US arrears to the UN of his ten family members. Whitehead figured that the US owed $1.1 billion at the time, which divided by the US population came to $4.40. "Our country seems not to realize that this is a treaty obligation," Whitehead wrote, "and that we have no right to refuse to pay up." The letter was made public and others followed Whitehead's lead by sending in checks of their own.

UNA staff supported the initiative by giving it publicity (though the organization did not adopt it as a campaign). Some eminent people sent checks, including Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and Paul Simon (D-Illinois). Early media coverage came from the Bloomberg Financial Network and Christian Science Monitor Radio. The story was later picked up by the New York Times and the Washington Times. There were also stories on National Public Radio (March 27), Associated Press (March 28) and CNN Headline News (March 30).

The Whitehead Initiative probably had its greatest impact through the local chapter networks of the UNA-USA, whose members were very concerned about the UN financial crisis. A number of chapters followed Whitehead's lead by mobilizing their members and people in their local communities to send in checks and contact legislators. This was the first wave of citizen pressure on Washington. Whitehead deserves considerable credit for being the first to raise a public voice and to take action to bring pressure on the Congress.

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