We’ve come a long way. Just over a year ago, we were brainstorming on the basics – interviewing in Congo and Washington on how much money the armed groups were making from the minerals trade, consulting geologists on which minerals we were talking about, researching with supply chain experts the potential paths that conflict minerals might take to end up in any consumer products. We debated what to call the campaign – blood metals, war electronics, conflict minerals?
And yet just a year on, things are moving at a breakneck speed. Yesterday the New York Times published its list of Buzzwords of the Year, and conflict minerals was one of them. This is the Times’ list of terms that have captivated America’s attention over the past year – “what resonated, what stuck, what the year revealed about the sensibility of the nation, whether you’re a wise Latina woman, a mini-Madoff, a teabagger or Balloon Boy.” Nested between Cash for Clunkers and Dracula Sneeze, conflict minerals is defined by the Times almost precisely how we have campaigned on it: “Gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum, widely used in electronic devices and commonly mined in politically unstable countries or regions. Related to conflict diamonds.”
There are clearly important hurdles to overcome in the coming year, but this issue has generated incredible momentum in 2009 on so many fronts – from a powerful 60 Minutes episode to far-reaching House and Senate bills to celebrity blogs and videos to the NYTimes list. Companies are telling us that this is now one of the top two issues on their corporate governance agendas.
The truth is powerful. The life and death urgency for people, particularly women, in eastern Congo is the real drive behind why this issue is so captivating for people. But campaigning on conflict minerals has also been something new and innovative over the past year; the campaign helps explain a complex war and a key part of its solution to millions of people across the U.S. and Europe in a way that people can understand and work to help end. Awareness is spreading, thanks to your collective work as activists, consumers, constituents, and interested policymakers.
Our goal in 2009 was to generate real attention on this issue, and we are getting there. Now, time to mobilize to bring about real change on the ground in Congo in the year to come.
Photo: A 16-year-old mines for gold in eastern Congo. (Grassroots Reconciliation Group/Sasha Lezhnev)