Monthly Archives: September 2010

Whistleblowers

Last week, I was told to blog.  Blog to get the word out.  Blog to spread awareness.  Blog for peace.

Last week, Sean Carasso, the founder of Falling Whistles came to ASU to speak.  We had a packed room, and it was really great to finally hear from him (last year I tried to get the FW Bike Tour, a trio including my friend Seth that was biking from St. Augustine, FL to San Diego, CA, to come to ASU – but they ended up going through Tucson).  Sean started the story by talking about his work with Invisible Children and TOMS Shoes, then dove right into his trip to the DR Congo.

After spending a couple of days trying to find out more about the conflict(s) in the DRC, Sean made his way to an army camp.  At the camp, a number of children were imprisoned for being enemies of the state – they had been kidnapped by rebels and forced to fight.  Talking to the children, Sean found out about an even more grave situation.  Some of the abductees were too small to carry guns and help the rebels.  They were given whistles and told to blow them during the charge to try to frighten the enemy – if they were killed they would be used as shields by the rebels.  This sent Sean on an immediate course to find out why the conflict was continuing and how to end it.  It turned into Falling Whistles soon after.

Hearing Sean speak was really interesting because he talked about his actual experience in the DRC and his experience trying to start the movement Stateside.  At the heart of this conflict is minerals – chief among them is tungsten, tin, tantalum (three Ts) and gold.  I’ve been following the conflict minerals stuff for a couple of years, but this semester I’m taking a class on environmental conflict and we’ve been talking a lot about resource conflicts – the DRC is the best example.  Those minerals are used in virtually all electronics.  So, how do you keep one of the largest deposits of important minerals from being used in our electronics?  How to you constrict the funding of rebel groups?

It is ridiculous to propose to this generation a boycott of laptops and cell phones.  Maybe a clothing company, maybe a car company.  A whole industry – and the one that we’re most intrinsically connected to?  Nah.  But, Sean touched on a great way to fight back.  Use them to end the war too.  If these minerals go into cell phones and laptops, you can use those same things to foster a movement that could actually do some good.  Use their weapon as yours.  It’s a notion embodied by the whistles that Falling Whistles sells to fund child rehabilitation in eastern DRC.  Their weapon.  Your weapon.

Conflict minerals legislation passed this summer in Congress as a part of Wall Street reform.  It’s hardly the end of the road.  Soon the details of the legislation will result in recommendations, and then the recommendations have to be analyzed and carried out.  Ultimately, hopefully, companies wanting to sell electronic goods in the United States will have to be able to provide independent audits that prove that materials did not come from rebel-held territories. I can only hope it’s more comprehensive than the Kimberley Process.  The solution to blood diamonds has largely been a piecemeal plan that relies on the honor code – but diamonds are a whole other monster thanks to DeBeers.  However, conflict minerals are serving a similar purpose to diamonds in Sierra Leone in the ’90s and – gasp – the DRC too.  An effort to limit the prevalence of conflict minerals in the market could keep our products clean from violence and maybe lead to the end of a war.

Update: If you’re worried that conflict minerals legislation will make our precious electronics go up in price – don’t worry.  Some companies have already stated that the auditing process in the legislation would raise prices of each product by about a penny.

From Promise to Peace

A few months ago, President Barack Obama signed into law the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act.  It was a piece of legislation that I had spent almost a year pushing for through local lobbying and organizing.  I think most of you can remember my excitement when the House finally passed the bill. In total, I attended seven or eight lobby meetings and made dozens of phone calls before it was finally passed.

Three months later, it looks like I’m back at it.  Included in the law was a mandate that, in 180 days, the Obama administration draft a strategy of how the United States would assist in apprehending the LRA leader Joseph Kony.  Upon signing the bill into law, the President stated that the U.S. was dedicated to this mission.  Soon after, Secretary of State Clinton said much the same thing.  Since then, not a word – and there’s only 70 days left.

Resolve Uganda is about to launch a campaign to keep pressure on the Obama administration from putting together a piecemeal strategy.  If this law is going to do anything, it needs to be a comprehensive plan.  Last week I met with the District Director at Rep. Harry Mitchell’s office and urged my representative in the House to state that he would read and review the strategy.  I’m trying to muster some support for an end-of-month meeting at the office of my former representative, Jeff Flake.  Hopefully, we can keep the pressure on or else this year of lobbying will have amounted to little.