Editor’s Note: They were all drawn to Congo advocacy in different ways, but Portland-based activists Amanda Ulrich, Alysha Atma, and Robert Hadley recently joined forces to convince their Oregon representatives in the U.S. Congress to take a stand to promote peace in Congo. In this guest post they describe what it took to pull off their recent advocacy success.
This month, five out of Oregon’s seven-member U.S. Congressional delegation sent a joint letter to Chairwoman Mary Schapiro of the Securities and Exchange Commission outlining the reasons the SEC must immediately release and implement strong conflict mineral reporting rules as required by Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act. Who would have thought that three like-minded, seemingly average individuals from Portland, OR, could join forces and successfully lobby for action from our federal representatives? Here’s how it happened, and our plans continue to spiral forward.
Amanda: On March 8, 2012, I held a group 10K run that I organized to benefit Run for Congo Women, a nonprofit founded by Portlander Lisa Shannon and now a project of Women for Women International. I was inspired to plan the event after reading The Enough Moment by John Prendergast and Don Cheadle, where I first learned about Congo’s conflict minerals. As a long-time advocate for Darfur, something sparked within me when I read the Enough Moment, and then a few months later A Thousand Sisters by Lisa Shannon. I knew that I had found a cause I could do something about.
It was not enough for me, however, to raise funds to benefit the survivors of the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, fueled in part through the mining of conflict minerals which later wind up in our electronics products. The connection I felt to the people of Congo was clear, and I wanted to ensure that I was doing everything within my power to support sound U.S. policy that would promote a peaceful solution to the conflict. So I reached out to Alysha, whom I had met through the A Thousand Sisters Facebook group. When I asked Alysha if there were additional ways I could “plug in” within our local community to advocate and raise awareness about the conflict in eastern Congo, she sent me her phone number, and we began to formulate a plan.
Alysha: I was thrilled when Amanda agreed to team up with Robert and me to advocate for conflict mineral free initiatives within Portland and across Oregon. Amanda was planning to send a collection of letters she gathered at her March event to our two U.S. senators. So while she lobbied our senators, I reached out to my contacts at Congresswoman Susan Bonamici’s and Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s offices. Our “ask” was simple and immediate: the release of strong 1502 regulations now.
In April, I sponsored a Fair Trade Colloquium at Portland State University; it was there that I met one of the individuals responsible for Intel’s conflict-free microprocessor project. In a moment of complete meant-to-be serendipity, I began to share our stories about the work that Atma Foundation’s Hand in Hand project in Congo accomplishes every day. I was both honored and lucky to find a new “old friend.” He intently listened, asked questions about how and WHY, and with more wine and conversation came more questions and ideas. Just like that a local partnership was formed.
Robert: Shortly after Alysha shared with Amanda and me her timely encounter with the Intel executive, we imparted Intel’s public commitment to make a verifiably conflict free microprocessor by 2013 to our respective contacts. Alysha was already working with Congresswoman Bonamici’s office to draft a letter to SEC Chairwoman Schapiro for circulation among the Oregon delegation, and so it seemed natural to acknowledge Intel’s committed investment in Congo within the body of the letter, particularly since Intel has a major office in Bonamici’s district.
My inspiration for this project goes back some 12 years since I began working on Holocaust and genocide awareness with students and teachers through the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center. I found it was not enough to simply raise awareness; I needed to model action for my students and share success stories like this with them. Proactively engaging our leaders, in government and industry, is essential to making a difference and something I hope that my students will replicate in their lives as citizen activists.
We all feel fortunate to be working together as a team. The policy realm can often seem daunting and at times you begin to wonder if your efforts are making a bit of difference. Together, with the commitment to keep pressing forward, you can find your voice. Efforts, when added to the larger whole, do make a difference, one victory at a time.
We continue to work every day, each within our own sphere but also together, building our Oregon team and collective voice. Our goals are small and large, but we have learned that as a team we can make great strides. We will continue to bring forward the voices and stories of the people we work for, to let them be heard with dignity and pride. We believe in the future of our coalition—of voices working together with the voices of Congo—to help bring change!
Alysha Atma is co-founder and executive director of Atma Foundation, where she also serves as an awareness and advocacy educator. Amanda Ulrich is a volunteer ambassador for Women for Women International. She works as a paralegal at Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton, a medium sized plaintiff’s firm in Portland, Oregon. Robert Hadley is a director at Atma Foundation. He is also an educator of genocide and Holocaust studies with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Regional Teacher Corps.