June 30, 2010

Facebook Protest! Eastern Congo, Conflict Minerals, Social Media and Social Change. Nathaniel Janowitz.

via twitter.com/elephantjournal: R our laptops, cell phones, TVs, iPods responsible 4 deadliest war since World War II? What we can do: http://bit.ly/9dSYmH video

The changing face of viral action, conflict minerals and raisehopeforcongo.org.

One of the least reported travesties in the world is the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C). Since the late 1990s over 5.000,000 people have died as a result of this war.

That makes it the deadliest war since World War II.

The main reasons this war has been continuing over the past decade is because of the conflict minerals trade in eastern Congo.

Essential parts of our electronic devices are made from minerals found in eastern Congo. Tin, tantalum, tungsten — the 3Ts — and gold serve such necessary functions as making our cell phones vibrate or helping our iPods store electricity.

The same armed groups who control most of the mines that supply these essential minerals to the world market are responsible for the epidemic of sexual violence in eastern Congo. Women and girls pay a gruesome price, and the persistent health conditions and severe trauma that linger for years after an attack are leaving communities and families in utter ruin. In addition, the labor conditions in the mines are abysmal. Indentured servitude is common practice, and children as young as 11 are used to squeeze into the tight spaces underground.”

~ Brooke Smith

Take a moment to learn more about this issue and some of the hardships Congolese face everyday by watching this 4 minute video that breaks it down.

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that right now, all over the world, we buy and use products that likely were made from conflict minerals extracted from these mines. Realizing how complicit we all are in fueling the human rights violations is a hard pill to swallow. No one wants to answer their new iPhone 4…but that is what’s happening.

Let’s be realistic; the chances of a large-scale boycott of computers, cell phones, televisions and iPods is not very likely. As much as we don’t want to admit it most electronics consumers are more attached to their machines than we like to realize.

Once, after presenting on an issue like this someone asked me “What can I do? What’s to stop me from being paralyzed by this information?”

And that’s a very real problem. Whether it be conflict minerals, oil, global warming or any issue. Sometimes the truth is so staggering it leaves us feeling helpless but as we ride the Internet revolution more opportunities to help and understand are available.

I don’t know about you but 10 years ago I was still using dial-up and had just gotten my first Hotmail account. Now look at where we are with the Internet. Many people have instant access sitting in their pocket, grandmothers have Facebook, and Youtube has 20 hours of video uploaded every minute!

10 years ago I had to tell my mom not to pick up the phone when I was cruising the web or I’d have to reconnect and that took forever. Our modem was brutal. Now we can find information to read on anything or, if we don’t feel like reading, we can watch a short online video explaining almost anything we can imagine within seconds.

One of the main organizations working towards curbing the conflict minerals trade is Raise Hope for the Congo which was started by famed human rights activist John Prendergast.

Prendergast and Raise Hope for the Congo have been using social media like Facebook and Youtube to fight this issue. This is significant because they are fighting a difficult problem through the same mediums that contribute to the reason we are so attached to our conflict mineral fueled products.

This past week this issue received a fair bit of press in both The New York Times and The Huffington Post in regards to a recently released Youtube parody of the well known Mac-PC commercials discussing conflict minerals.

Over the past few months Raise Hope for the Congo launched a large scale Facebook initiative towards electronics companies and Congress members who were voting on the Conflict Mineral Trade Act (HR 4128).

Not only was it successful, it was easy!

By going to raisehopeforcongo.org and signing up for their mailing list I would receive Emails roughly once or twice a week which would have links to certain members of Congress’ Facebook pages. As legislation moved to various votes the Facebook pages sent to me would be the voting members as they changed. All you had to do was simply ‘like’ their page and then you were able to leave a message on their wall urging them to support HR 4128.

It was amazing to see how many people had taken the time to contact these Congress men and women on their walls. It became a massive Facebook Protest and only took about 5-10 minutes every couple days.

The folks at Raise Hope also focused this action on electronics companies who spend a lot of money each year paying lobbyists to work against conflict mineral legislation. They organized focused Facebook protests towards Nintendo, Apple, Intel, Dell, HP and RIM Blackberry asking them to support legislation.

The estimated additional cost to maintain a conflict free product is an additional only a penny per product but most of these companies said this was still too much.

However, due to continued online support the language suggested by Prendergast was accepted into the bill. What remains is next week, the House and Senate will vote on the full financial reform legislation.

A year ago most members of Congress hadn’t even heard of conflict minerals. In the middle of a turbulent legislative calendar, activists all over the country were heard loudly and clearly: We demand conflict-free products and we expect our legislators to do all they can to ensure that.”

~ John Prendergast

Now that we are 10 years into the 21st century the world is an entirely different place than when we entered the millennium. With the continued rapid development and expansion of the Internet and technology things are only going to get crazier, faster. By learning how to use these new forms of technology and social media positively we can also affect change faster and on a larger scale.

At the touch of a button we can link protesters and like minded individuals to work towards a common goal. Raise Hope is just one of many online action networks proving this everyday.

The Internet is arguably starting to give the power to the people more so than any other time in human history.

If enough people realize this and use social media for more then just looking at pictures of our ex’s who knows how the world could change for the better. Today is the day to become involved and work towards riding the wave positively, not negatively.

Information on Conflict Minerals in the D.R.C and how you can get involved.

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