Tweeting the Revolution (or at least the Rescue)

The internet has been pretty a-buzz over Malcolm Gladwell’s recent article in the New Yorker.  It’s called “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted” and it’s generated a lot of backlash.  Gladwell’s main argument is that modern social networking – through Facebook and Twitter – won’t translate into revolutionary social activism.  He points primarily to the differences between strong ties and weak ties and what type of actions each tie generates.  His primary focus is the sit-ins in Greensboro in 1960 and he contrasts that to a recent online campaign to get people to register as bone marrow donors.

So far, I’ve only read a few responses.  Angus Johnston provides a critique that follows the 1960s activism theme by contrasting SNCC with SDS and showing the strength of weak ties in organizing.  Patrick St. John did a pretty good job of showing how effective decentralized non-hierarchical networks can be. There’s also a good article at Wired that provides some great evidence as to why weak ties are useful for organizing.

I just wanted to provide a short contemporary example that hasn’t been added to the deluge of responses.  For years I’ve grown a number of weak ties with friends across the country for an idea that few others share: that a war in a far off place can end with our help.  It was called The Rescue. In April of 2009, we tweeted and facebooked our way to tens of thousands of people attending events simultaneously in 100 cities.  Some of my friends whom I convinced to initially show up were weak-tie friends.  And when the Phoenix event closed up shop and people caravaned to Albuquerque (then Wichita, then Chicago) the weak ties kept me updated as to what was going on.  Peruse the #therescue hashtag.  Watch “Together We Are Free,” the film about how The Rescue played out over six days and brought 500 people to Chicago.  Most of the Rescue Riders started off as weak ties and grew stronger.

Now, spending a week living on parks, vans, and church gyms is one thing.  Changing the world can be a bit different, I know.  But the attention that peaked with the Rescue carried into something huge.  A year-long local lobbying effort led by young people started off with the biggest Africa-related lobbying initiative in Washington history and culminated with the most widely co-sponsored Africa-related bill in modern legislative history.  And since the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act passed, we are anxiously awaiting the Obama administration’s response.

As one of the ones who abducted himself, I say that weak ties have power.

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From Promise to Peace

A few months ago, President Barack Obama signed into law the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act.  It was a piece of legislation that I had spent almost a year pushing for through local lobbying and organizing.  I think most of you can remember my excitement when the House finally passed the bill. In total, I attended seven or eight lobby meetings and made dozens of phone calls before it was finally passed.

Three months later, it looks like I’m back at it.  Included in the law was a mandate that, in 180 days, the Obama administration draft a strategy of how the United States would assist in apprehending the LRA leader Joseph Kony.  Upon signing the bill into law, the President stated that the U.S. was dedicated to this mission.  Soon after, Secretary of State Clinton said much the same thing.  Since then, not a word – and there’s only 70 days left.

Resolve Uganda is about to launch a campaign to keep pressure on the Obama administration from putting together a piecemeal strategy.  If this law is going to do anything, it needs to be a comprehensive plan.  Last week I met with the District Director at Rep. Harry Mitchell’s office and urged my representative in the House to state that he would read and review the strategy.  I’m trying to muster some support for an end-of-month meeting at the office of my former representative, Jeff Flake.  Hopefully, we can keep the pressure on or else this year of lobbying will have amounted to little.

Without Objection

Yesterday evening, the United States House passed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009.  I was at home watching C-SPAN and was elated to hear it pass.  A number of representatives made statements on the floor about the atrocities carried out by the LRA, including all of the original co-sponsors and both the chairman and ranking Republican of the Foreign Affairs Committee.  In theses statements, several representatives mentioned the work of advocates and activists.  And boy it’s been a long haul for a lot of the people I know.  Invisible Children made a sweet video breaking down everything I’ve written here, so feel free to get some visuals. In April of 2009, nearly 100,000 activists took to the streets in 100 cities around the world for a campaign that ended six days later in Chicago.  In May, Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Sam Brownback (R-KA) introduced the bill, and a piece of partner legislation was introduced in the House by a trio of representatives.  A month later, 1700 activists descended on Washington, DC for two days – the most for any lobbying initiative.  The months since have been dotted by district meetings all over the country, and slowly the support trickled in.  In addition to lobby meetings, over 250,000 signatures were gathered for the Citizen’s Arrest Warrant for Joseph Kony and were hand-delivered to the State Department.  When Senator Tom Coburn tried to block the bill from passing in the Senate, a grassroots campaign led to activists sleeping outside of his office for 262 hours until he removed his hold (and the bill passed with unanimous consent). The bill gained the support of 65 Senators and 201 Representatives, the most of any policy bill in this session and the most for any Africa-related bill in either chamber in modern American history.  And on Wednesday it passed the House by voice vote and without objection. If you want to know more about what this means (and doesn’t mean), my friends at Resolve Uganda put together a break-down Q & A and John Prendergast wrote an article for Huffington Post about the bill as well.  The main thing you should know is that it will soon become law for the US to help apprehend Joseph Kony.

UPDATE (5/14) – Kim and I totally saw an Invisible Children ad on TV last night.  Totally weird, totally cool.  If you get Halogen.tv you should check out all of the IC films they’re showing. :D

UPDATE (5/15) – A couple more links for everyone! Senators Russ Feingold, Sam Brownback, and Jim Inhofe, together with Representatives Jim McGovern and Ed Royce issued a joint statement celebrating the passage of the bill that you can read here.  And, props to Resolve Uganda are in order.  The organization called for supporters to ask for statements from their representatives.  Their goal was five (only about 10 have made statements on this issue in the past ten years) and by the time the bill came to a vote fifteen statements had been made.  You can see a full transcript of the statements on Resolve’s website.

Social Consciousness

So, I haven’t posted in ten days.  What a slacker!  I will make up for it by posting a thousand times this week*.  It’s been a busy few days.  I’m waste-deep in schoolwork, trying to figure out the logistics of getting myself to Uganda, and trying to move forward in wedding planning.  I think a few blog posts will be forthcoming to address all of the recent events.  The first of which will be a post which I am very proud to write.

In September of 2007, I started a student organization to help end a war.  Lofty ambitions, I know – but it all began with raising money to rebuild a school.  Each spring, Arizona State’s Student Organization Resource Center (SORC) holds a Hall of Fame awards event honoring some of the clubs on campus.  I’ve thrown our name in the mix every year, mentioning camp-out events and national conferences, fund raisers and educational screenings.  Each year, I’ve nominated us for the Social Consciousness Award, and each year we haven’t even been mentioned.  But this year?

This year our bullet points looked pretty damn good: we contributed to the Rescue, How it Ends, Schools For Schools, the Hometown Shakedown, the Legacy Tour, and our own lobby days.  I had high hopes at the award ceremony.  I was talking to the guys at my table – part of a society for business majors – and they wished me luck.  I was listening to what the other groups had done and, albeit great work, I was convinced that we were going to win this year.

WE WON!  I was so ecstatic to be recognized!  I marched on up there, probably with a goofy smile, and accepted a fancy framed certificate.  It was a good feeling to hear my club’s name at the awards ceremony.  Thinking back, the past year’s work has included the help of soooo many people and I appreciate it so much.  Looking forward, I hope that we can keep it going and run again next year.  Talking with club members and supporters from the community, I think we’ll be able to keep up the work.  I guess the work starts now?  Let’s go!

*1000 = 2 or 3, probably.

Victory.

Big news for my friends in Oklahoma and across the country, as well as for us here in Arizona.

On March 9th, 41 days after he put a hold on the bill and 262 hours after activists began camping outside of his district office, Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma released his hold on the bill.  Just a few hours later, it passed the Senate with unanimous consent.  The compromise they reached was pretty simple – changed some language to make it more direct that the $40M would be offset and not add to the deficit.  Coburn sticks to his principle, we stick to ours.  So, so excited to see this go through the upper house.  Now we just need to turn to the House of Representatives, where we only have 162 co-sponsors so far.

Speaking of which, here’s the personal victory.  In June my friends met with Representative Harry Mitchell’s staff in DC.  I’ve met with his staff twice here in Tempe.  After all of this, my friend Kristi met him at a fundraiser and mentioned the bill – he said he had never heard of it.  Demoralized, I sent a few follow-up e-mails to his staff and voila!  He co-sponsored yesterday!  I’m such a happy camper right now.  Nationally, we passed the bill in the Senate and my friends in Oklahoma managed to do the unthinkable.  Locally, a few good friends and myself put this obscure African bill on the desk of our representative and convinced him to put his name on it.  It’s a good day for activism.

I want to leave you with a little evidence of how commited people are.  The circles are the homes of people who ended up in Oklahoma City for 262 hours in the rain.

The Hold Out came from all over! (Picture by Rachel Bryan)

“It pierces your heart”

Tuesday night, the ASU campus hosted the Invisible Children roadies. I met up with them and helped set up in the Memorial Union, and we just kinda hung out for a while. I met the new roadies and the two Ugandans with them, and I also got to catch up with some familiar faces.

I talked to Richard, a Ugandan from IC’s Mentor Program, a bit before the screening and he seemed like a really interesting fellow.  Easy to talk to.  Then I greeted some familiar faces before starting the film.  I’ve probably seen this movie over twenty times. The crane shot still just floors me. And Jacob crying is still one of the most  heart-wrenching things to behold.  If you haven’t seen this film, I feel that you need to.

After the screening, a former night-commuter from the film spoke to us a little. After he spoke, his mentor spoke for a while. Richard is very well-versed.  He reminds me of my maternal grandparents with all the proverbs and deep thinking. Hell, he invented proverbs as he spoke – comparing people to light bulbs and turning life into a highway.  And while I didn’t record the Q & A, I got most of their addresses beforehand.  I hope you enjoy:

 

105 Hours

Today was a big day for me! I both narrowed and broadened my choices for the rest of my stay at ASU, and hopefully the semesters will play out the way I want. May have opened a new window for the internship. And the Legacy tour came to ASU! Expect at least one, maybe two posts about March 2nd to come soon. In the mean time, I want to pay a little bit more homage to the Oklahoma Hold-Out: 105 hours as I type. In the early 90s, they held a short press conference that I tried to listen to while in class. I’ll be youtube-ing it to catch what I missed. At hour 100, John Prendergast – the former Director of African Affairs for the National Security Council under President Clinton and co-founder of The Enough Project – issued a video statement in solidarity with the Hold Out. Until my future posts, I leave you with the letter that the activists are handing out to passersby in the Sooner State:

“Dear Oklahomans,

Staying outside Senator Coburn’s office for 24 hours a day – especially when overnight temperatures dip below freezing – no doubt sounds a bit extreme, because it is! But please allow us to explain why we have chosen to be here instead of at our jobs or in school. It is for a worthy cause.

Right now, in central Africa, a terror group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is stealing children from their homes and families and forcing them to become child soldiers. They are attacking vulnerable communities, burning down churches, and maiming their victims. In the last year, this group has abducted and killed thousands of innocent people.

With leadership from our government, this violence is preventable. There is currently a bill in Congress – called the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act (S.1067) – that seeks to spur such leadership. It has more bipartisan support than any legislation focused on Africa in America’s history (62 Senate cosponsors!), and Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma is one of its biggest champions.

But Senator Coburn is blocking the passage of this bill because it authorizes funding to help the victims of this violence without an “offset” that clarifies where the funds will come from. Let us be clear: this bill does not directly expand our budget or deficit, and Senator Coburn knows that. He also knows that attaching an offset to it would result in the bill’s likely death. So he has decided to block the passage of this bill – supported by 99 other Senators – to make a purely symbolic point, even as the LRA continues its campaign of violence and terror.

All we want is to see Senator Coburn engage personally in finding a compromise that upholds his own principles and still addresses this urgent crisis. Because we feel so strongly about stopping this senseless violence, we are not going home until such a compromise is reached.

You can help us by writing or calling Senator Coburn to request that he allow this bill to pass, and by visiting http://www.coburnsayyes.com where you can find more information or make a tax-deductible donation to support this cause.

Thank you!

-Us”

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:

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.