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By Patrick McDermott, Legislative Aide (PA Senate) and Activist

Twitter: twitter.com/pdmcdermott

Facebook: facebook.com/pdmcdermott

First things first: my greetings to you, fellow AIDemocracy Bloggers and readers!

Although this is my first time writing for The World InSight, I am not entirely unfamiliar to AIDemocracy. I was an intern for the Peace and Security Program a little over a year ago and look back with fondness on that experience. When I began looking for a way to get back involved in the advocacy/organizing field, because of that positive experience I had with AIDemocracy, I contacted them. As luck would have it, Netroots Nation* was coming up, and with it, my opportunity to get back into the foray of  building awareness and advocacy efforts around issues of global importance. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

After the election of President Obama, there was obviously a sense of euphoria and satisfaction knowing that the countless hours and unyielding resolve that went into electing him to the highest office in the land were not in vain. And although there is still much hope and optimism about what can and should be done, it is now infected with a sense of timidity and cautiousness. Part of the blame is certainly owed to the “townhallers” and their provocateurs (i.e. right-wing media) and financiers who will stop at nothing to ensure the status quo remains in place, for whatever reason. However, the Netroots were quick to point out that part of the blame lay at the President’s feet as well.

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As I brace myself for my final year at American University, graduate level classes, and a highly uncertain job market at the end of the tunnel, I’m (at least a little) comforted by my experiences at AIDemocracy this summer. This organization’s ability to connect the dots between global issues (socio-political stability, food security, local organic agriculture initiatives, US aid policy, and child mortality rates, for example), rather than viewing them in isolation, has always appealed to me. I find myself almost looking forward to writing my senior thesis and diving deeper into these systemic issues that impact global development, global health, and global peace and security.

Over the last few months, many of my micro-level experiences and personal relationships have come to fit into a bigger puzzle of US foreign assistance and trade policies. Researching and blogging about progressive alternatives in the development field has shown me that effective solutions are out there, that their supporters do exist in the public policy arena, and that I’ve actually seen many of these approaches in practice with my own two eyes. My experiences abroad have taken on new meaning and weight, and I’ve realized that young people like myself are, while not scholarly experts, some of the best equipped proponents of such policies.

We are an online generation, the first group of young people fully familiar with Google, Facebook, Youtube, Wikipedia, Twitter, Skype, and WordPress. Yes, this has made some of us lazy, overweight, and phenomenally uninteresting. I would counter that it has made far more of us open-minded and better attuned to global problems. All of that Facebook chatting with acquaintances around the world is worth much more than we generally admit—it’s time we started using it to shift the national policy dialogue about global development, global health, and global peace and security.

It’s been a comfort to share experiences with my fellow activists this summer, to learn we’ve traveled and worked in some of the same communities in the developing world, and to build relationships within the movements for global justice that we’ve chosen to be a part of. It’s been a pleasure getting to know so many of you this summer, and I hope you’ll stay in touch – you’ll always be able to find me through the AIDemocracy network. Meanwhile, I hope to share my continuing research on global development initiatives this fall!

Yesterday, I barely managed to squeeze into the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on “The Case for Foreign Aid Reform: Foreign Aid and Development in a New Era.”

The room was packed with young people, and spectators overflowed into the hallway. Senator Robert Menendez jokingly asked Dr. Jeffrey Sachs if he had invited his university classes to attend. As pleased as I was that the Senator noticed our presence, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he misunderstood our reason for being there—we may be interning on the Hill or for advocacy organizations in D.C. this summer, but we are also voters, taxpayers, and activists. We packed into the SFRC hearing like sardines because we are interested, informed, engaged, and passionate about politics, not for extra credit.

The truth is, older generations still fail to take young people seriously. It’s the fault of both sides; Menendez needs to realize the significance of young people’s presence at that hearing, and we students need to make more calls, write more letters, cast more votes, attend more meetings, and raise our voices outside Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and the blog world.  The social networking sites our parents hate may serve as a valuable tool to connect us with the rest of the world, but affiliating with groups or causes is nothing more than mere affiliation if we don’t use that network to act. As more and more of us study abroad and gain first-hand perspectives on the world’s challenges, we’re exposed to innovative and collaborative approaches to global development and security. Young people packed the SFRC hearing because we want to know whether our government—the country with the richest economy in the world—is pulling its weight and supporting these solutions.

Wednesday’s SFRC hearing was designed to address this question:  Are U.S. foreign assistance programs working?

Read the rest of this entry »

Previously this week, AID was invited to a discussion with Feministing.com blogger Ann Friedman, who provided some fundamental information on how to utilize blogging as a tool for advocacy. For anyone who is interested in guest posting on our blog, or starting your own social justice or advocacy blog, don’t be daunted! Though some of it may seem a bit self-evident, here are some basic ideas and tips Ann had for creating an interesting and relevant blog to engage supporters and advocates:

Read the rest of this entry »

Last Sunday, the 21st of December, police in the Islamic Republic of Iran raided and closed the office of a human rights organization, the Center of Human Rights Defenders in the Iranian capital of Tehran. The raid occurred just as the Center was having a celebration for the United Nation’s Declaration on human rights and to honor activist Taqi Rahmani.  Nargues Mohammadi, the Deputy Director of the Center described the raid: “Intelligence Ministry ‎agents, the police and plain-clothes forces surrounded our offices that day… Eventually about 10 ‎to 15 of these agents entered the building without warning. We tried to stop them and asked for a warrant. ‎They not only ignored our demands but even verbally attacked and abused me and others. ”

The authorities claim that the Center was operating as a political part without the necessary legal permit and that they had illegal contacts with local and foreign organizations.  The Center counters that it submitted the necessary paper work six years ago and that the raid was conducted illegally since the officers did not have a warrant.  Mohammadi added, “A policeman said he was not obliged to show a warrant because he was wearing a police uniform”.

The Center for Human Rights Defenders is an organization founded by five well-known lawyers.  They report regularly on the human rights situation in Iran, provide free legal defense to ideological and political dissidents, and defense for family members of ideological and political prisoners.  The Centre is particularly well know because one of its founders, Dr Shirin Ebadi, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work for women’s and human rights in Iran.  The group has filed a formal complaint against the closure of the office.  More on Iran’s numerous human rights abuses and international responses after the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Change is on America’s mind. Her armed forces battle abroad as citizens grow weary of the world’s troubles, violence, and domestic worries about healthcare, gas prices, and public education. While candidates battle for what changes they’ll bring, and who will bring the most – the real challenge to America will be how Americans will support, contribute, construct, and carry out these changes in their lives, in their community, and in the broader world. These challenges are ones demanding an intergenerational approach, and a renewed commitment to public service beginning with America’s youth.

Young Americans today carry a political identity forged on September 11th. Watching friends and family depart for Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve witnessed the breakdown of Iraq, resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and acts of terrorism and violence worldwide. As images of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib scorched across computer screens and television sets, our hearts held onto the core of America’s values, but we began seeing an America we could not recognize, and in which we could not believe.

This generation witnessed The United States rapidly changing in front of impressionable eyes. No longer could we look at our country feeling secure in our future. Not simply because of terrorism or war – but because the principles of current leadership mocked the principles of our America. This generation watched powerless as the future was gambled away by those to whom it was entrusted. Young adults and children of America today will be the leaders and workers of tomorrow confronting the outcomes of these decisions. Our future depends on decisions now. 

We can no longer be Americans who can rest easily at night, dreaming the American dream of years past. We are the Americans that look to the horizon and see the massive undertakings ahead, both at home and abroad, which merit democratic discussion on an unprecedented level, and will be the grand calling of our time.

It is time for change. We cannot allow others to squander our future, using short-sighted solutions in addressing the many issues confronting us. We must become part of the decisions that will affect us greatly, begin holding our leaders accountable for their actions through involvement in the political process, and ensure goals are met with a renewed commitment to public service.

The networks, programs, and pathways to public service need to be expanded and strengthened – actively reaching out to all Americans, particularly young Americans seeking job experience with a purpose. Many seek to contribute to a higher calling in life, and there is no purpose more resonant, more compelling, and more necessary than restoring our nation’s health, mind, and infrastructure. This means the mind of every American should be ready to contribute to progress.

Yet, while colleges produce well-qualified graduates, students in less fortunate circumstances struggle to stay in school and avoid the traps of addictions, broken families, and economic despair. Divides between rich and poor, between black and white, between red and blue, and between America and the rest of the world are expanding. Young Americans who see potential, who believe in equality, and who want to lead a purposeful life are workers this country needs to recognize early and often. Renewing a call to public service should become a priority for all White House candidates, not simply because it is time for change, but because it is time to realize the potential of American citizenship during a time of adversity. If we are called, we will serve. Our service now will benefit the country, and it will benefit the future as our skills expand, and our minds mature. It is only through such action will America be able to restore its credibility and image around the world.

It is time to start seriously engaging young America and her potential. A new generation is ready to confront the world’s challenges not because of its hardships, but because of its possibilities.  We are your children and your legacy, and we represent a county’s hopes and dreams for the future. And, Young America, it is finally our chance to step up and renew America’s promise to the world, and – more importantly – America’s promise to herself.

Michael Miner is a strategist at a Washington, D.C. based communications firm and a senior political analyst at Americans for Informed Democracy. Jessica Guiney is a master’s candidate in security policy studies at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, and a research assistant at a non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C.  The views expressed are those of the authors alone.

As this post is being read, violence continues in the Darfur region of Sudan. Without engaging in the debate concerning whether or not the atrocities in Darfur may indeed be deemed genocide according to international law, mass atrocities continue to be committed. The mass violence in Darfur is an issue that affects the ‘international community’ as well as smaller communities in the US and the people who are victims of genocide in Sudan, and while it is a challenging issue to discuss, there are solutions. There are obvious and less obvious community sectors and major global and local forces contributing to the problem. What is needed? A creative solution that operates both within existing state structures and outside the nation-state is what is needed.

The crisis in Darfur has many root causes and has grown out of several separate but intersecting conflicts (Straus 125). The first is a civil war between the Islamist, Khartoum-based national government, and two rebel groups based in Darfur (The Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality movement). “The rebels, angered by Darfur’s political and economic marginalization by Khartoum, first appeared in February 2003” (Straus 124). The government did not begin a major counteroffensive until the rebels carried out a major attack on a military airfield. Khartoum responded by “arming irregular militia forces and directing them to eradicate the rebellion. The militias set out to do just that, but mass violence against civilians is what followed” (Straus 125). The government essentially decided to covertly fight the rebels. In 2004, the government and main southern rebels entered negotiations and neared a comprehensive agreement. However, the Darfur region was never represented in these discussions: “the Darfur rebels decided to strike partly to avoid being left out of any new political settlement” (Straus 125). Here it can be seen that a community that was marginalized was merely attempting to fight for their rights.

More specifically, Darfur, which is about the size of Texas, is home to about six million people and several dozen tribes, which are then split between “those who claim ‘African’ descent and primarily practice sedentary agriculture, and those who claim ‘Arab’ descent and are mostly semi-nomadic livestock herders” (Straus 126). However, these divisions are far from clear since all Sudanese are technically African, and Darfurians are nearly all Muslim. In addition, years of intermarriage have decreased obvious physical differences between ‘Arabs and black ‘Africans’ (Straus 126). Extended drought and environmental factors have caused increased land disputes and have escalated the tensions in the region. The Khartoum government did not help matters by supporting and arming Arab tribes in the mid-1980s to “prevent the southern rebels from gaining a foothold in the region” (Straus 126). In response to rebel uprisings the government armed Arab militias to target black African civilians who came from the same tribes as the rebel groups.

While one person may be able to make a small mark, what is really needed in this solution is for people to come together and lobby governments all over the world to take action, while at the same time working outside the government structure to support projects such as solar cookers in refugee camps or NGO’s on the ground providing much-needed assistance. Gary Delgado, Oakland organizer writes in his introduction how his own experience as an organizer led him to believe, “the ground-breaking work, the innovation, the experimentation, and the motivating livid anger that comes from the truly oppressed is at the heart of the work in immigrants’ rights organizations, gay and lesbian organizations, disabled people’s organizations and organizations of people of color” (7). Organizers must not only focus on those who have money to donate, but also incorporate all oppressed people to illustrate that these actions will not be tolerated.
What should be included? Elements of activist using people power “to embarrass, disrupt, and publicly challenge key decision makers, forcing them to adhere to the group’s demands” (Delgado 20) and using “indigenous leadership with a professional staff.” It is also important to recognize where the solution fits into the larger picture and whether or not it can solve the root causes or serve as a band-aid. The situation in Sudan seems more similar to an analogy of a hemorrhage in that you cannot stop a hemorrhage with band-aids, “however many you apply; for a hemorrhage, you need major surgery. And I worry that as we fritter away our time and energies debating the minutia of small scale do-it-yourself-type community initiatives, the patient will bleed to death” (Gilligan 10). At the same time as we try slowing to patch up the patient, Sudan, we must also be aware of the larger picture, but it is these smaller scale initiatives that will hopefully lead to change.

According to Colin Fletcher, who writes on community problems, the problems must first be acknowledged as a shared. As Fletcher says, “the problems of society today can only be solved when society has become a community. Community occurs when a common predicament is shared. Sharing requires sympathetic understanding which in turn is the beginning of wisdom” (Fletcher 44). If we, as an international community, can recognize that this is indeed an issue that is important, than as individuals we can lobby our governments by movements in the street such as the Stop Genocide Rally on the Washington Mall in April 2006. Also by increasing awareness and continually showing that as an international community, we care.
This will also be a period calling for more collaboration between many diverse communities around the world (Calderon 53). As Calderon says, “Changing relations between all peoples and all countries are developing a more interdependent world. Today, we live with the reality that no community, no economy, and no country is able to exist separately” (Calderon 54). Although it may be hard to see at first glance how the victims of the genocide in Darfur are connected to us, as students in the US we are able to transcend national boundaries and work alongside communities as diverse as those in Sudan.

Since the movement to stop genocide is so strong in the US we can expand outwards and help train and mobilize others to lobby their governments to take some kind of action on the issue of Sudan. As a former student at Pitzer College, I brought together students, staff, faculty and anyone else interested to discuss current events in Sudan. I asked people with indigenous knowledge such as Lako Tongun, who is originally from the Sudan to work with Jerry Fowler, a visiting professor from the Holocaust Memorial Museum Committee on Conscious and student activists across the five colleges to come together to increase awareness of an important issue. Small groups must connect to schools outside the US, and tell them about what they are doing to help educate others about Darfur in hopes that schools can pass the message forward and contact other schools to mobilize transnational activism to stop genocide in Sudan, or at least assuage the situation.

Looking at the problem of genocide in Darfur, as students, we cannot change the ecological factors, we cannot individually choose to go in to fight against government-backed militias, nor can all of us travel to Sudan to speak to the refugees. We may not all agree on the measures that should be taken by the US or so-called international community to stop the atrocities: Should there be an invasion to stop the violence, an increased African Union force, targeted sanctions, comprehensive sanctions, or suspension of UN membership? The conditions are further complicated by the changes that are taking place day to day, as time goes by. What we can control is our own activism.

For more information:
http://www.ushmm.org/conscience/alert/darfur/contents/01-overview/
http://www.genocideintervention.net/
http://www.standnow.org/

References:

Fletcher, Colin, “The Meanings of ‘Community’ in Community Education,” in Community Education: An Agenda for Educational Reform, ed. Allen Garth, et al., Philadelphia: open University Press, 1987, 33-49.

Calderon, Jose, “An Essay on Sources of Intercommunity Conflict and Models of Collaboration,” California Politics and Policy, (10-1998), p.53-57.

Gilligan, James (2001) “Who Benefits from Violence” Preventing Violence. London: Thames and Hudson, 7-28 and 131-38.

Straus, Scott. “Darfur and the Genocide Debate,” Foreign Affairs, volume 84, No. 1 available at http://www.polisci.wisc.edu/users/Straus/Straus.pdf

Hi all —

We’re getting ready for our "Social Entrepreneurship and Global Change" summit and we just got the awesome links below to great organizations young people should check out from our presenter on Progressive Youth Movements… check these out!

Seth

OPEN SOCIETY INSTITUTE
www.soros.org

A Sample of Youth Activist and Civic Engagement Organizations

AMERICANS FOR INFORMED DEMOCRACY

THE BUS PROJECT

CAMPUS PROGRESS, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS
www.campusprogress.org

CAMPUS CLIMATE CHALLENGE
www.climatechallenge.org

CENTER FOR PROGRESSIVE LEADERSHIP
www.progressleaders.org

CHOICE USA
www.choiceusa.org

GENDER PAC
www.gpac.org

GENERATION CHANGE, CENTER FOR COMMUNITY CHANGE
www.community HYPERLINK "http://www.communitychange.org/issues/generationchange" change.org/issues/generationchange

GLOBAL JUSTICE
www.globaljusticenow.org

THE LEAGUE OF YOUNG VOTERS
www.indyvoter.org

ROCK THE VOTE
www.rockthevote.com

STUDENTS FOR A SENSIBLE DRUG POLICY
www.ssdp.org

STUDENT PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP’S NEW VOTERS PROJECT
www.newvotersproject.org

UNITED STATES STUDENT ASSOCIATION
www.usstudents.org

YOUTH RADIO
www.youthradio.org

YOUTH RIGHTS MEDIA
www.youthrightsmedia.org

YOUNG ELECTED OFFICIALS NETWORK, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY FOUNDATION
www.youngelectedofficials.org

YOUNG PEOPLE FOR, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY FOUNDATION
www.youngpeoplefor.org

Resources and Information

CIRCLE
www.civicyouth.org

YOUNG VOTER STRATEGIES
www.youngvoterstrategies.org

WIRETAP

FUTUREMAJORITY BLOG

NEW ORGANIZING INSTITUTE

IARA PENG’S ARTICLE, “HOW PROGRESSIVES CAN WIN IN THE LONG RUN”

ANNA GREENBERG’S STUDY ON THE MILLENIALS, FAITH, AND TECHNOLOGY

NEW AMERICA MEDIA’S STUDY ON CALIFORNIA YOUTH

NEW YORK TIMES, "YOUNG AMERICANS ARE LEANING LEFT, NEW POLL FINDS"

And just a soon as it had begun, it was over. The two-day Rabat, Morocco, conference was a great success, drawing inquisitive, engaged young people from the US and Morocco to discuss two big issues: democracy and security. While the first day included discussions by three panels of experts, the second day was dedicated to youth dialogue (hence the “American-Moroccan Youth Dialogue” title).

On account of the caffeine delivery delay, we started the day a half hour late, but made up the time throughout the day. We divided the 40-odd participants into four groups, making…? That’s right, 10 for each group. (And we’re not math majors). The groups were given the first topic—“ Democracy”—and were told to discuss for 1.5 hours. Clearly, you could spend years discussing this topic and could approach this topic from many angles. We wanted to give each group the opportunity to speak about what they found most interested and to see what direction the discussion led. I hopped from room to room, and was very impressed and surprised by some of the comments, especially from the Moroccan side. Several young Moroccans were very outspoken and critical of the king and his policies (especially regarding the alleviation of poverty). The Moroccans felt they were able to share these thoughts and these criticisms, which I took to mean one of two things. Either, they felt that this forum was a “safe space” in which criticisms of the king’s policies would be accepted, or they are not afraid to speak out against unpopular policies in general. Either way, I took this is a very good sign.

The second 1.5 hour discussion session was dedicated to “Conflict and Security.” Terrorism in Morocco is completely rejected, deemed “un-Moroccan” and “un-Islamic.” Perhaps even more so than the Americans, the Moroccans spoke about the threat of domestic terrorism and the pressing need to begin to address root causes of terrorism—especially poverty and education. Throughout both sessions, groups were developing policy recommendations addressed to the Moroccan and American Government that were to be voted on and, optimally, ratified in the afternoon.

After lunch, the large group reconvened and debated the 33 draft policy recommendations under the titles: Education, Media, Moroccan Politics and Governance, Combating Terrorism, and American Democracy Promotion Projects. In the democratic tradition, we welcomed amendments (2) and debate about each recommendation. At the conclusion of debate, each participant voted on secret ballot “yes” or “no” to the recommendation. After three hours of debate and amending, we ultimately ratified 20 recommendations (by getting a majority of votes from both nationalities). We were all very pleased with the result, this body of recommendations we had organically created through democratic practice—consultation, voting, consensus.

Laurel Rapp

Rabat, Morocco

Written on May 26

The first day of the Rabat, Morocco, conference has just come to a close! We’re all exhausted, but very pleased with the way it turned out! Al Jazeera (Qatar-based pan-Arab TV station) was there broadcasting introductions and two of the three panels all day, which adds a bit of excitement to the mix. In the US, Al Jazeera is perceived as quite negative, portraying a skewed image of the US to the world, but for all of the Middle East, it’s THE moderate news source. But I’ll return to press coverage later…

I kicked off the conference to a room of 80+ with a welcome and introductions including a picture of the rather dismal world opinion of the US. I detailed the purpose of the two-day conference, to increase cross-cultural understanding, to give young people a voice because they so often fall on deaf ears, and to create a space for Americans and Moroccans to discuss their countries’ policies in a neutral forum. Conference partners James Liddell of the Project on Middle East Democracy (Georgetown-based student group) and the President of the Moroccan Center for Strategic Studies spoke about the importance of such a dialogue at this very critical time in history.

Introductions were followed with some very knowledgeable and renowned scholars, activists, and politicians. The first day had three panels entitled:

1) “Talking About Democracy”

2) “US Democracy Promotion Projects in Morocco”

3) “Security in the context of US-Morocco Relations”

All of the panels were fascinating, but perhaps the most fun to watch due to the tension among the panels (and the one that received the most bizarre and misinformed press coverage) was the third panel.

The third panel included the President of the research center partner organization, a Moroccan from a local NGO currently staging a boycott against the American Embassy, and an American Government representative. Awkward? Younes Foudil of the Moroccan NGO participating in the boycott went head-to-head with Craig Karp, the seasoned diplomat from the American Embassy in Rabat (in a very civilized and respectful way, as professionals do, of course. Sorry kids, little to no Jerry Springer action).

Karp, of the Embassy, generously told Foudil that he was encouraged by the development of Moroccan civil society and its realization that boycotting and striking are powerful tools to social change (even boycotting his work….quite generous). Despite the impressiveness of all three panelists, the audience directed a barrage of questions solely at Karp—questions ranging from—more or less—“how do you sleep at night” to more nuanced, less personally offensive questions about official policy towards the contested southern region of Morocco (or region south of Morocco, depending on who you talk to). The first day ended on a high note with applause and positive energy that participants will take to tomorrow’s day of dialogue.

And now for some comic relief: As we all filed outside to the pool terrace of the hotel for Moroccan mint tea and cookies in our business suits, we came across a rather curious sight. Right in the middle of our tea break space was a European couple lounging by the pool facedown, in bikini and speedo, I had to chuckle to myself as Al Jazeera started setting up its cameras to interview us and had to move to avoid this h’shuma (shameful according to Islam) sight.

Laurel Rapp

Rabat, Morocco

Written on May 25, 2007

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