Editor's Note: This op-ed by Raise Hope for Congo campaign manager JD Stier was orignally published on Politico.
On a cold Monday night, thousands of screaming students and activists are gathered for a rally for Congo. As the stage lights brighten, the crowd’s anticipation and excitement is palpable. Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are here to welcome hometown legend and Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and to hear his important message about the conflict in Congo.
This is a scene from a rally held at one of the largest college campuses in the nation last month. Rodgers, who has a general tendency to keep to himself, took the stage with the Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo campaign to make bold statements about corporations’ responsibility to humanity, a greater responsibility that comes with a celebrity platform and his desire to stand in solidarity with the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to see an end to their conflict.
“I thought about how my legacy was going to be remembered here. I remember sitting on the bus after we won [the 2011 Super Bowl] in Dallas and thinking to myself, ‘I’m on top of the world,’ we just accomplished the most amazing goal in football. But I’m sitting here with a semi-empty feeling. I had a moment. I said to myself — ‘is this it? Is there more to life than this?’ And the answer was resoundingly yes.”
Having traveled around the country speaking about the Congo and the connections we have to the conflict, I have seen the class size, the audience and the supporters grow significantly. Students come to events more engaged, more knowledgeable, and more eager to join the movement.
Fast forward to Madison, Wisconsin and a mass of university students on their feet, energized and ready to engage on Congo. Although an earlier student movement sprang up when fighting erupted in Congo in the 1990s, the student advocacy movement has struggled to keep momentum between fleeting moments of international attention. This year, I have seen this student-led movement reach new heights as the results of sustained organizing. Students are a critical part of the activist movement surrounding Congo, and their support for key advocacy and policy goals continues to drive change.