Editor’s Note: Portland-based activists Amanda Ulrich, Alysha Atma, and Robert Hadley recently joined forces to host Oregon’s One Million Bones installation at Portland State University. They talk about their advocacy for Congo and the work they continue to do to pass conflict-free resolutions in Oregon cities.
On April 25, Oregon’s One Million Bones, or OMB, group hosted an installation at Portland State University of nearly 9,500 clay bones to remember victims of past genocides and support genocide prevention. The Oregon Coalition for Humanity , or OCH, the Atma Foundation, and the Oregon Holocaust & Resource Center co-sponsored the event.
OMB is a national, large-scale social arts practice that aims to raise awareness of ongoing genocides and atrocities around the world, including conflicts in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, Burma, and Somalia. The Portland installation focused on raising awareness about the conflict in eastern Congo, where one of the primary drivers of violence is the trade of conflict minerals—gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum—that end up in electronics products.
Over the past nine months, students and concerned citizens in Oregon have been gathering to make bones out of clay as a memorial to those who have lost their lives in this conflict. Many of the students also engraved messages of hope and inspiration, as well as their own names, onto the bones as a way to establish a symbolic connection.
These same bones will be displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. as part of the OMB national installation on June 9 and10. Portland activists will also be joining the Enough Project for the Act Against Atrocities Advocacy Day on June 10 to meet with legislators and their staff members and urge them to take action to end the conflict in Congo.
The OMB installation in Portland helped to highlight OCH's Conflict-Free City Initiative, which aims to change the purchasing policies of city councils in the area to demonstrate demand for products that contain conflict-free minerals from eastern Congo. The trade in conflict minerals is one of the primary drivers of conflict in eastern Congo, and electronics companies, along with other industries that use minerals from eastern Congo, can help return profits to the Congolese people, rather than lining the pockets of armed groups. OCH is working with the city councils of Portland andBeaverton, Oregon, with plans to expand to the communities of Hillsboro, Wilsonville, and Salem. By passing a conflict-free resolution, these cities can keep the pressure on electronics companies to continue to exercise leadership on this issue and contribute to conflict-free supply chains in eastern Congo.
On May 1, 2013, the Beaverton Human Rights Advisory Commission voted 11-0 in favor of a conflict-free resolution, and OCH members met with Mayor Denny Doyle, who pledged his support. He anticipates that Beaverton’s City Council will vote to approve the resolution soon, and that this will put pressure on Portland to follow. The City of Portland’s Procurement Department has said they “want a resolution and purchasing decision with teeth, not just one that feels good.” And Oregon activists will be happy to help them follow through.
Oregon residents can take action to end the conflict in eastern Congo with the Oregon Coalition for Humanity and the Atma Foundation. Oregon constituents, including civic groups and businesses, can also send letters in support of a Portland City Council conflict-free resolution to Portland’s Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz:
Mayor Charlie Hales
1221 SW Fourth, Room 340
Portland, OR 97204
Commissioner Amanda Fritz
1221 SW 4th Ave., Room 220
Portland, OR 97204
The One Million Bones installations demonstrate that humanity’s best can outshine its worst. So long as the Congo conflict continues, activists will continue to amplify the voices of Congolese people who are calling for durable peace in their country.
Photo: One Million Bones installation in Portland,Oregon.