Sadly, not many people know what is going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, even though momentum from the conflict-free movement is building. I was guilty of this; I had heard that there was a war going on, and millions had died, but I never knew how I personally was connected to the conflict. I started to become interested in the conflict when I realized how little about the issue the public knew, despite the fact that we have a connection to it through our purchases. I wanted to find out more and see how I could help, but I did not know of a group that was dedicated to helping the Congolese people.
One day I saw a flier for an event that STAND was hosting UC Santa Cruz’s campus and decided to attend. After seeing how this group cared about the issues and wanted to make a difference, I joined. I learned about how the minerals in our electronic products, even the iPod in my pocket, have helped fuel this tragedy that has been going on for more than a decade.
One day, members of my STAND chapter sent an email recruiting a team to attend a conference at Stanford University on the problems and solutions of the conflict minerals crisis taking place in the Congo. Wanting to strengthen my knowledge on the subject, I enthusiastically said yes.
After spending three days learning and collaborating with other students involved in the Conflict-free Campus Initiative, I think the biggest takeaway was feeling empowered to lead my campus in taking a stand that will catch the attention of electronics companies and help quell the conflict, for the people of Congo. It was not a conference that people went to inspired and left feeling disenfranchised and as if the problem was so large that there is nothing we can do. Instead, we learned how immense the problem is, but also that there is something each and every one of us can do. No one voice is too small; every action counts toward building a strong movement.
After the conference, the University of California Santa Cruz STAND chapter set up some goals to tackle our university’s purchases of conflict minerals. Our school has a few more hurdles to get through since we are a public school facing a time of deep budget cuts, and we must get every University of California campus (10 campuses spread out all over the state) to take action alongside us. With this in mind we have decided to start small and work our way up. We are planning to launch a Facebook group to send to as many UC college students as possible to get the word out about what and why we’re advocating for conflict free UC campuses. We’re also reaching out for support from other groups on our campus that have a mutual interest in a conflict-free initiative. Next, we will work our way up the chain from student government, professors, departments, administration, and eventually the UC Regents, who hold many decision making responsibilities in the UC system. We have been networking with other UC campuses to so that we are unified with our goals and timeline.
I feel lucky to have had an opportunity to attend the Stanford conference because it invigorated our work and showed us we’re part of something bigger. As part of this movement, we will be able to have an impact on what is going on in the Congo for the better. While there are many steps to go, STAND at UC Santa Cruz is inspired to lead the conflict free effort among UC schools – one of the largest university systems in the United States. What a powerful statement we could make.
Ali Hatcher is a freshman at UC Santa Cruz studying linguistics and a member of STAND.