The Oklahoma Hold-Out

As of right now, the hold-out in Oklahoma City has been going on for more than 24 hours. They’re holed up near the Chase Building, where Senator Coburn’s office is, and they’re committed. I have friends from Austin and San Diego that are there, and I heard supporters from Chicago and Los Angeles have also converged on the Sooner State. As I mentioned in my last post why there are there, they are asking Senator Tom Coburn to remove his hold on the Bill. On the same day as the rally at the OKC Capitol, Senator Russ Feingold called on Coburn to work with the original co-sponsors.

I not only admire this strong commitment to peace in the region, I share and support it. If it were up to me I’d probably be hunkered down with them right now. Supporters are flocking from across the country to one city. Supporters who can’t make it are sending food and blankets to keep them going. They even brought the Live Feed. It’s like a mini-Rescue, when 100,000 people in 100 cities supported each other for 6 days until Oprah addressed 500 of the faithful in Chicago. I’m really excited to see how it all plays out.

But I’m really worried for this bill and whether or not this campaign will work. You see, Senator Tom Coburn is a unique individual. Like a counterpart in the House, my former Representative Jeff Flake, he has one platform. The single thing he stands for more than anything else is not just fiscal responsibility, but fiscal restriction. Senator Coburn drafted a list of requirements for bills, and if a proposed bill does not meet these requirements, he refuses to allow it to pass. He has done this time and time again, placing holds on numerous bills. He even carried a little cheat sheet with a run down of each bill because he has holds on so many.

When approached about this Bill in particular, he stood his ground. I admire a man of his principle, but I’m worried that we;re reaching a stalemate. When a constituent asked about the bill (about 4:00 in), the Senator said he would support an offset to the State Department. This compromise was offered, and he still refused. I asked some sources, and they’re fairly certain that compromise wasn’t plausible even when Coburn said this. Numerous other compromises have been pitched, all to be rejected. The bill doesn’t even appropriate extra funds for this – it just authorizes spending and Congress will figure out where the money comes from later.

The problem is, Coburn won’t back down on this issue. Another problem is that we won’t give up on this bill. It means too much to the thousands of activists across the country. It means even more to innocent civilians in four east-central African countries. It means even more to those child soldiers and sex slaves in the LRA. So, we’ll keep pushing. My hope is that Oklahoma’s junior senator will cave under constituent support. But I’m prepared to go the long route and revisit my own representatives in Congress, because the only way to get around this hold is a floor vote – but we need wide support for that. So, I’m hopeful that this campaign will end soon with the removal of Coburn’s hold. But I’m gearing up to meet with important people all across the state. E-mails and phone calls will be going out soon!


Coburn Say Yes

Tomorrow is a big day for the Bill.  As you may or may not be aware from posts of the past, the Bill has 61 co-sponsors in the Senate, the most any sub-Saharan Africa-related bill has received in modern U.S. history.  Such good news that the original sponsors decided to hotline the bill, meaning it would pass with unanimous consent unless somebody actually took the time to put a hold on it to keep it from passing.

Tomorrow, is The OK Says YES Day of Action in Oklahoma City. The Invisible Children roadies, with two Ugandans, are already there. Lisa and Kenneth, director of communications and legislative fellow, respectively, of Resolve Uganda are already there. Activists, from Oklahoma and from elsewhere, are converging on the Capitol. Their mission? Get Senator Coburn to remove the hold.

Coburn has a strict set of principles that all bills must fit before he allows them to pass. His issue with the LRA/N. Uganda Bill is that the costs ($40M over 3 years) are not offset. Problem is, this bill doesn’t add to the deficit at all. If passed, it will approve the funds, which the Appropriations Committee would later direct – that is from where an offset can and probably will come. To add such an offset before would probably lose quite a few votes from whoever doesn’t like where the money comes from. To get passed Coburn’s hold would require a full floor vote, a time-consuming process that would be drowned by the health care overhaul. So this is where we stand.

Activists and constituents are converging on OKC tomorrow. And they aren’t leaving until the hold is removed. The Resolve Uganda crew and those who have the ability and the will are going to camp out at Coburn’s district office until the hold is removed.

If you want to hear from the Senator directly how he supports the cause but not the bill, you can check out this town hall meeting:

For-Profit or Not-For-Profit?

So, there are two or three things in the Africa/philanthropy/activism field I’ve been meaning to rant about.  This is one, and at least another will follow sometime.   Since they are rants, I apologize for any rambling or over-impassioned writing. Now, onward to companies I refuse to support.

In the philanthropic world, there are a couple of things that are all the rage.  One, is Toms Shoes. A lesser one is Ethos Water, a sub-group from the giant Starbucks Foundation. I have grievances about these two companies.

Toms Shoes is a for-profit company that’s selling point is this: If you buy a pair of $40-90 shoes, we’ll donate a pair to a needy child in South America or Africa. One for one. It’s that simple, and it sells like hotcakes to hipsters wanting to help.

My beef with Toms Shoes has several dimensions to it. When I first  heard about Toms Shoes, it was because my friend Mike was explaining his grievances to an Invisible Children roadie. Since then, I’ve looked more and more into the company and have come to pretty much the same conclusions as Mike.

  • First of all, giving shoes to kids is just not sustainable. When that pair of shoes wears out, they’ll just be waiting for the next trip Blake Mycoskie makes with free shoes. It’s be much better if community development helped empower people with jobs and maybe they could buy their children shoes themselves.
  • But the company is giving away shoes! That’s so genuinely kind of them! NO.  Since it’s a for-profit company, they don’t release credible numbers. But we do know that they outsource production, meaning these $40-90 shoes probably cost a fistful of dollars. The positive press they get for giving cheap shoes away more than makes up for the loss.
  • Want to make this a better model? Make the shoes fair trade. Employ locally here so that American parents can buy their children shoes; or  even better, employ on-site, so that  the local residents get jobs and their children get shoes. Maybe give them some personal finance lessons so that now they’re kids can wear those donated shoes to school. There are so many roads to improvement, but they cost this altruistic for-profit too much money to consider.
  • Youngsters wanting to be a part of something truly good volunteer to work for Toms or to promote the company in places like college campuses. As my friend Mike put it, it’s like Nike having volunteers. A company uses its “good deed” which doesn’t really cost it anything and it gets free promotions and even some free labor out of it, so giving shoes away in Argentina actually saves them a lot of cash.
  • Also, the shoes look okay, but those boots are hella freaky.

Ethos Water is that bottle that you see in Starbucks stores that boasts, right on the bottle in blue letters, “helping children get clean water.” For every bottle sold, the company donates $0.05 to a water-related aid agency that is helping some of the billion people without clean water get clean water.

My gripe with Ethos Water is probably even greater than with Toms. It is also multi-faceted, and I was introduced to my problems when standing in a Starbucks one day waiting to meet a friend. I picked up the bottle, read the label, saw the price, and just about kicked somebody (maybe Peter Thum).

  • For starters, each bottle ranges from $2-4. For one bottle of purified water. I could buy a 24-pack of bottled water at Fry’s for about $3.50. The equivalent in Ethos would be about $100, of which $1.20 would go towards real change-makers. Or I could buy said carton of bottled water and donate $96 directly to programs.
  • With all this eco-friendly craziness going on, you’d think they would at least be good in that regard. Even though it’s made by Pepsi Co, who uses recycled plastic in all their bottles – Ethos Water doesn’t. They introduce new plastics into the world.
  • Starbucks bought Ethos Water for $8,000,000. To date, Ethos Water has donated $6,000,000. That’s just a fun fact.
  • Another fun fact: one could donate $100 to Charity Water and do some good. To get $100 to affiliated groups through Ethos Water, you’d have to buy 2000 bottles, or spend $4000-8000 dollars. And you would be creating all that  plastic waste in your wake.

Now, I don’t mind for-profits that send a little to a charity, like when Yoplait collects yogurt-tops for Breast Cancer awareness (my grievances with the Breast Cancer awareness cause [re: industry] aside) or others. These are companies choosing to send a portion  to a cause. I don’t support companies founded on pathos and espouse this cause and misuse the disadvantaged to get your cash. My favorite, of course, is the non-profit sector. These non-governmental organizations actually do work, and many are transparent about how their money is spent. Not all are ethical, many have too much overhead (but that’s a blogpost for another day) but they  at least have a mission statement and are  restricted by NGO requirements.  So, if you feel like giving shoes to kids or building a well in a rural village, do it in a better way please. Or just don’t tell me about it.

EDIT: All links should be fixed. Sorry, I’m forgetful about HTML rules.

Let’s All (go to the) Lobby

In the passed week I have been doing some footwork for the Bill around these parts.  Hopefully it’ll amount to something.

Good news is, the Bill passed committee in the Senate a long time ago and has been hotlined to pass unanimously. Bad news is, Sen. Tom Coburn decided that he didn’t want it to pass, despite the 61 co-sponsors in the Upper House marking the most widely supported Africa-related legislation in modern US history.  In the House, I’m still trying to get a few co-sponsors in the East Valley.

Jeff Flake, strong fiscal conservative and lover of Africa, is my number one target. I met him personally in DC and have been to his district office twice.  He supports our efforts, but has yet to support the bill.  I’m trying to wrap my head around that one, but hopefully he’ll get passed the $30 million for recovery and c0-sponsor it already.

Harry Mitchell, Blue Dog Democrat, is my actual Representative in Congress.  I have been to his offices twice and his staff is super-supportive, but he has yet to help us out.  He’s not in a place of high power for this bill (He’s on the Veterans Affairs Committee, whereas Flake is on the Africa Subcommittee) but any support is good support.  All of the other Democratic Representatives in Arizona have co-sponsored, so I’m hoping he will hop on the bandwagon and get to co-sponsoring.

In the mean time, I’m gearing up for a couple weeks of awareness work at ASU.  I’m rounding up all of our shirts and Erin just sent me a fresh box of trendy hats.  I’ll be putting an order for tote bags in soon, and hopefully we can decorate those in time for the big screenings.  Regardless, we’re hoping for two big turn-outs before Spring Break.  And, for those of you not in the area, you should track down a nearby event!  One of my favorite invisible children, Jacob, the former child soldier from Rough Cut, is headed up to the Pacific Northwest. My good friend Seth is traveling with wise old Norman across the South. Boni, one of the boys living under Lacor hospital in 2003 is going across the Great Lakes region. And New England is home to Innocent, the night commuter from the white bracelet video. And that’s just a few of the great people on tour this spring!  I am so, so stoked for this national tour.  It promises to be super-exciting.

Student Teacher

So, yesterday I was e-mailing my advisor and was made aware of some sudden changes to my plan for the next year or so.  For the passed year, I’ve been planning on doing my Global Studies internship this summer and coming back to student teach in the fall.  After that, I figured I’d bulldoze a busy semester in the spring with whatever I had left.  But, apparently, student teaching has to be done in the absolute last semester.

So, I will be coming back from my internship to take classes and then student teach in the spring.  I’ve got mixed feelings right now, but I’m hoping that it will turn out to be a good change.  This fall, I’ll be swamped with homework which may stress me out with the whole wedding-planning thing, but maybe I’ll have a more flexible schedule than bell-to-bell work. I might be able to work some in the fall (maybe), which would be nice for sustainability. Oh, and I know more about spring semester standards so I’d probably be better at thinking up lessons.

I guess I should get back to the class I’m in, but that’s the skinny on student teaching.

The Legacy Tour

Every  fall and spring (and even sometimes in the summer) Invisible Children sends  dozens of determined and dirty youth in vans across the country to tell a story. Sometimes it is an inspiring story about  resilience and sometimes it is an progressive story of advocacy. This spring, the Legacy Tour will be completely different from anything they have done before. Why? Because instead of four American kids, one or two of which had been to Uganda, showing me a film about Ugandans, each team will be bringing a person featured in the film. 2 Americans and 8 Ugandans are getting ready to join the ranks of the roadies and go out on the road.

My representatives in the San Diego office, the Mountain West Team, will be hitting the road soon.  With them is a young man named Tony. Tony has been a part of the Invisible Children movement since 2003, when they met him on their first trip to Uganda and made Rough Cut. I am so, so excited to meet him. In 2003, Tony was a night-commuter, walking long distances to find a safe place to sleep in the big cities. He and a handful of  boys slipped away from the crowded bus park and slept in an abandoned hall under a hospital. Since night-commuting has gone down in the passed  three years or so, it’ll be interesting to see how he has changed.  So, so stoked!