Next Generation Activism and An Evening With Rep. Shimkus

My mom absolutely loves the music of Andrius Mamontovas.

So when my mom was our Lithuanian school’s Literature teacher, we were taught about “Lauzo Sviesa” by Mamontovas.

Laužo šviesa naktyje
Guodžia gaivina mane
Nerimas stingsta veide
Kas ten toli tamsoje

Laužas prieš mano akis
Dega karštai lyg širdis
Laukiu prie laužo šviesos
Gal kas atklys iš tamsos

Dek šviesk ir neužgesk
Šildyk rankas
Glostyk akis
Atmerktas

Būk vienintelė viltis
Nors ir mano paties
Uždegta
Naktyje

Gal kas prie laužo sustos
Gal pasiilgs šilumos
Tam kas klajoja nakty
Laužo šviesa bus viltis

Žvaigždės pakilo aukštai
Šaukia jas paukščių takai
Laužas žvaigždes man atstos
Šviesą ir šilumą duos

The light from the fire in the night
Is comforting, refreshing me
The worry is settling in the face
What is there far in the dark?

The fire in front of my eyes
Is burning as hot as the heart
I am waiting by the light from the fire
Maybe someone will wander here from the dark

Burn, give light and don’t extinguish
Warm up the hands
Caress the open eyes,
Be the only home
Even if my own
Lit up in the night.

Maybe someone will stop by the fire
Maybe they will miss the warmth
For the one, who wanders in the night
The light from the fire will be the hope.

The stars have risen highly
They are greeted by the Milky Ways
The fire will substitute me the stars
Will give me the light and the warmth

Burn, give light and don’t extinguish,
Warm up the hands,
Caress the open eyes.
Be the only home
Even if my own
Lit up in the night.

The fire will burn for long
What could substitute its light for me?
Even the all-powerful night
Will not dare to blow it out.

English translation by lyricstranslate.com

To me, the song shows the grassroots fire that existed in the independence movement not only in Lithuania, but for that fire that existed in my parents, their friends, and other Baltic-Americans.

We all know the timeline of what happened next – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia declared independence. Next, the mighty Soviet Union collapsed.

I’ve heard the question before, and I’ll keep asking it, “Did our history end in 1991 with independence?”

One person in particular answered “hell no.”

That person was Representative John Shimkus.

Representative John Shimkus is a 4th generation Lithuanian-American from Collinsville, Illinois. As he tells it, when he became a member of Congress, he was approached by one Angela Nelson. She was part of the Baltic-American Freedom League and on a mission to gain an ally in Congress.

After a long discussion, as Rep. Shimkus describes it, Rep. Shimkus went on to form the House Baltic Caucus in 1997.

Rep. John Shimkus knew that history did not end in 1991. The Soviet Union may have collapsed, but the “Russia threat” never went away.

Germany and others thought that an expansion of NATO would be seen as an aggressive act against Russia. It also meant security though.

Then on September 11th, 2001, The United States was attacked and needed allies. NATO stepped up, but still more allies could prove useful.

In 2004, Rep. Shimkus believes that it benefitted the United States to have the Baltic countries join NATO. He rallied Congress, and Congress pushed for the inclusion of the Baltics in NATO.

Rep. Shimkus’s fight paid off, and immediately Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians proved useful in their fight alongside Americans.

Plus, now they gained more security by being part of NATO.

So did Baltic history end in 2004?

Rep. Shimkus again answers through his actions – “hell no.”

The Baltic Caucus continues to grow to be one of the larger caucuses in Congress.

Now, Rep. Shimkus is retiring at the end of 2020. To thank him for his years of service, Studentu Ateitininkai (a youth wing of the Lithuanian-Catholic organization, ‘Ateitis’), along with Baltivist.com, picked up that activist fire passed on from previous generations.

Thank you to those who participated. Now onto continuing our fight.

For those interested - what we chatted about

I’ve heard before that activism isn’t a sprint, it’s not even a marathon, but it’s a relay race.

This Zoom chat felt like a pass of the activism relay race.

Marija Cyvaite, president of the US chapter of Studentu Ateitininkai, shared about some of the history and ideology of Ateitininkai.

While it was the first time Rep. Shimkus had heard of Ateitininkai, it seemed he understood the principles of the organization. While not a Catholic like Ateitininkai, he spoke of how his strong Lutheran faith guides him as a member of Congress. He understood the tie of the 5 core Ateitinku principles and how that relates to activism.

Lile Sadauskaite stepped up next, pushing for a stronger relationship between Rep. Shimkus and Ateitininkai. She invited him to the Winter Camp – Ziemos Kursai. Rep. Shimkus, now understanding the importance of Ateitininkai and relaying his hope to teach high school upon retirement, gladly accepted the invitation.

Rep. Shimkus, the storyteller, transitioned to his time as chair of the House Baltic Caucus.

He spoke of his time meeting Angela Nelson and their strong friendship. He spoke about his time pushing for the acceptance of the Baltics into NATO, and how one of his lifetime highlights was standing in Vilnius with President George Bush upon the acceptance of the Baltics into NATO.

This guy was just sharing stories that was music to our ears.

Rima Ziuraitiene thanked him for his years of service, and offered a juosta  – which Rep. Shimkus gladly accepted.

We continued the discussion of the importance of the House Baltic Caucus, and Viktoras Sadauskas shared his perspectives on the importance of the Baltics for the United States. He affirmed our knowledge of the Baltics fighting alongside the US, how the Baltics are on the forefront of democracy, and how the Baltics protect in a world emerging with hybrid warfare threats.

At this point, I’m looking at the clock. We were scheduled for a half hour chat, but now we were already at 30 minutes and we were barely halfway past our agenda.

As planned, Vidas Kulbis chimes in to show how much freedom of the Baltics meant to the group. With a show of hands, we showed that over half the group had dual citizenship.

Finally, it was time to get down to business.

Nord Stream 2.

We had this whole thing ready to present on Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that would give Russia more energy power over Europe.

But we just learned that in fact sanctions against companies constructing the pipeline passed the House and Senate, so we had nothing to ask!

Kovas Kulbis shared this news, and it seemed like this was valuable news for Rep. Shimkus too.

Finally, now an hour into our 30 minute conversation, came the news of the day – Belarus.

The storyteller Rep. Shimkus had more stories, this time about him monitoring elections in Belarus previously. He wasn’t even allowed to step over a red line to count ballots.

Seemed “transparent”.

Now, it was his turn to share valuable information about Belarus with us.

Side note, this is why we have these meetings. This info he shared couldn’t be found online or in the news. We could only learn about this in a meeting.

The meeting concluded after over an hour, and I felt like I was cutting it short.

Thank you so much to Rep. Shimkus for the meeting.

To those that participated, thank you so much for coming and participating. You made a real difference and should be proud of yourselves.

That’s activism at work!

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