Organización Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island (OLA) this week announced it has received a three-year commitment from donors Linda and Michael Donovan to fund the hiring of a full-time general counsel for the non-profit organization for the first time. Andrew Strong, of Springs, a human rights attorney who spent seven years working at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on war crimes cases, has been appointed to the position. Mr. Strong spoke to The Expressabout his background and his new role with OLA.
What inspired you to become an attorney, and specifically an attorney that takes on human rights matters?
I think like many law students, I wanted to practice law because I saw it as a tool to change things I felt were unfair to people. As those really general feelings began to crystallize or firmly set in my mind, I came across John Yoo and Jay Bybee’s memos arguing for the use of torture in the War on Terror. Those memos and the subsequent practice of state-sanctioned torture left me outraged. After reading them, I knew that I wanted to focus on human rights.
What inspired you to work with OLA?
I think OLA is performing a critical service to our community and for its long-term health. I strongly believe that we need to ensure that basic human rights are met for all members of this community. OLA’s mission is consistent with that, and it’s inspiring.
What are your goals for the new OLA position?
Our goals are focused on several areas. Some of them include ensuring all members of the community have unfettered access to public education; assessing and increasing public transportation on the East End, and building capacity on the East End to help individuals from the Latino population with legal issues ranging from mortgage fraud to immigration.
Besides your knowledge and background in law, what other skills do you bring to OLA that will be useful in making an impact here on the East End?
Outside of my law background, I think my connection to this community is a huge asset. I live in Springs, I have two children — a third on the way — and I want to work to ensure this community is as strong, vibrant and positive for my children as it is for me. I think approaching the position and constantly asking the question, ‘What is best for the long-term health of this community?’ is a critical part of the job, and is why having someone that is a year-round resident and invested in this community strikes me as a benefit.
In general, do you think there is a lack of empathy or compassion in the realm of human rights these days? What steps can people take to encourage greater understanding among themselves?
I don’t think there is less empathy today than in the past. It is important to remember how far we have come in the last few generations and how much better off we are at addressing lots of human rights issues. I think human rights, as a general idea, can be very difficult to relate to on a daily basis when you’re busy with making a living and family. I think that when presented specifically with a real human struggling with real problems, people, especially out here, are extremely compassionate and ready to help. The biggest difference I can see in the way we relate to each now is that some portion of the conversation about human rights in our community is done from behind a computer on comment sections and other online media. Removing that layer of interpersonal relationship allows people to write and communicate in much more polarized ways and express views that come across as extremely aggressive, even when in truth there is more commonality to be found. And I think it pulls the dialogue to more extreme ends of the spectrum.