Saturday, October 8, 2011

How Long Will this Shtick Keep Working?

Aside from attending the Great Lakes Policy conference, I spent much of last week shepherding several Congolese civil society leaders around DC to talk about conflict minerals. I came away impressed at how many people in DC are knowledgeable about the Great Lakes. There are a lot of highly educated people in this town with a lot of  Africa experience. They understand what it means to deprive people of their livelihood. And from what I could tell, almost all of them are dismayed by the impact Enough's campaign has had on the economy of eastern Congo.

So I was a little puzzled to read Enough's latest email blast:

Dear Friend,
Thought the fight for strong conflict minerals regulations in the U.S. was nearly over? Think again.Over the past year and a half, we've worked together to create momentum for conflict minerals reform so that our electronics products will one day no longer fuel the deadliest conflict since World War II. Last year you fought hard for conflict minerals regulations to be a part of the Dodd-FrankWall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Earlier this year, over 27,000 of you called on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to create strong rules governing how companies must comply with these regulations by tracing and auditing their supply chains.
Now the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is threatening to undo all of your hard work.After a series of delays, a long uphill battle, and consistent corporate lobbying against provision 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act, the SEC is set to release conflict minerals regulations in December. 

By continuing to frame the issue as a contest between brave activists and greedy corporations, Enough is ignoring the multitude of journalists, academics, Congolese expatriates, and Congolese civil society leaders who have spoken out against the minerals campaign--most recently at this week's conference. This sort of brave-us vs. greedy-them rhetoric may work among the tinseltown crowd. But it's going to underwhelm the knowledge producers in this town. And I'm not sure it's wise to disregard them. Credibility is a little like virginity: very hard to recover once lost. How many human rights groups are going to endorse Enough's next campaign? How many Hollywood stars will sign up next time Enough approaches them? How seriously is Congress or the State Department going to take its recommendations? What decisions will its funders make next year or the year after? All of these organizations rely on serious people doing serious work to make their internal recommendations. And right now, if I were Enough, I'd be worried that these were the people I was losing.


  1. Its fairly obvious David that you are pretty clueless with how power works. As, I would add, most intellectuals.

    But that's ok, its what you are a paid to do, and god knows if this issue went away folks like you, and Ms Seay, and all the other brilliant minds would just choose another object of observation.

    So here's the rundown about power, David. In America, we have these things called elected officials. In order to win elections, they need to form these things called constituencies. To ensure these constituencies hear the message these officials have to raise alot of money.

    But guess what? If you form a constituency large and powerful enough, you can put real pressure on the electeds. Indeed, as Jewish and Cuban Americans have shown, that pressure can be of such a degree that "sound policy" can be ignored by malcontents in journalism and academia like yourself. Its sound policy to stop settlements in the West Bank right, David? Its sound policy to lift the embargo against Cuba right, David?

    Perhaps it is but it doesn't matter.

    Enough is building power out there in America. The goal of that power is to put pressure, where needed, and praise, where applicable, on elected officials vis a vis the Congo. You may not like the means it is choosing to do so but that's how it works in DC.

    Hope this lesson in power was useful for you. Perhaps you will put a little less stock in the power of an idea and a bit more in that of the ballot box and form, I dunno, the "Aronson Congo Network".

    You just might be taken seriously in the halls of power in DC.

    Good luck with your organizing.

    - Mel

    ps- and just to be clear, I strongly support Enough and I'm an American Jew that fundamentally believes without American Jewry, Israelis would have long ago been wiped off the planet. Many Israelis can't stand our influence here because its "uninformed by realities on the ground" (sound familiar, David?) and our response to that is "your drowning in the weeds".

  2. I posted a variation ofthis previously, and it has not yet appeared on this page.

    My question is: Rather than criticizing Enough (who I also support wholeheartedly), why don't you spend your energy on finding ways to help those miners who have lost jobs???

    Sincerely, nell