Editor’s Note: The Massachusetts-based Congo Action Now group recently claimed some early success in their efforts to usher a new law through the Massachusetts legislature that would bolster the pending federal law on the use of conflict minerals from Congo. Activist and guest blogger Pat Aron writes about their initiative.
“You won’t fight your war on my body any more!” These words from Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer prize-winning play “Ruined” are a call for an end to the war that has devastated the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for over 15 years, a war that is being waged on the bodies of women and children.
Earlier this month, the Enough Project joined Congo Action Now and other advocates at the Massachusetts State House in Boston to support legislation that will help curb the trade in conflict minerals that is financing the war. If passed, the Act Relative to Congo Conflict Minerals (H3982) would prohibit the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from contracting with companies that are not in compliance with Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Section 1502 requires any publicly traded company to report about the steps taken to trace the origin and supply chain of conflict minerals from Congo and surrounding countries. By providing direct financial incentives, H3982 will encourage companies to comply with the federal law.
As warring groups pursue mineral wealth, mass atrocities, including the epidemic of rape in eastern Congo, are directly connected to the minerals that we in the U.S. use every day in our cell phones and laptop computers. In the words of Enough’s Chloe Christman during a hearing about the bill, “This connection allows the State of Massachusetts, as a market for many of these products, enormous leverage over processes that can lead to change.”
Our day of advocacy at the State House began with a public hearing on H3982 before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. Advocates including Congolese activists and representatives from the Enough Project, Congo Action Now, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, Global Witness, Our Bodies Ourselves, and the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center presented powerful testimony. Committee members were visibly affected and acted quickly on the bill, issuing a favorable report the same day and sending the bill to the House of Representatives. An afternoon of meetings with state legislators and aides to Senator Scott Brown was followed by an interview with a Boston Globe reporter. We were happy to see the Globe publish an editorial calling for swift finalization of Section 1502 regulations.
H3982 was originally proposed by Congo Action Now, a grassroots organization that emerged three years ago following an event organized by the Boston Branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. After learning about the devastation in eastern Congo and the causes of the war, we knew we had to act. Working in coalition with Congolese organizations both in the U.S. and in the DRC, Congo Action Now has worked to raise awareness of what is happening in the Congo and has organized campaigns to influence public officials. A major focus of our work has been getting Congo conflict minerals legislation passed, first at the federal level and now with H3982. State Representative Marty Walsh of Dorchester filed the bill on September 30, 2011, and 23 legislators are co-sponsoring the bill and 40 organizations have signed on as supporters.
Congo Action now encourages everyone to sign our petition to the Massachusetts legislature at The 187th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Pass the Massachusetts Congo Conflict Minerals Bill: HD 04065. If you live in Massachusetts, you can also contact your state senator and representative and ask them to support H3982. You’ll find contact information and a sample letter/email at www.congoactionnow.weebly.com. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if your organization is interested in signing on as a supporter of the bill.
Pat Aron is a political activist and a public health social worker. She is a founding member of Congo Action Now.