Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Connections: Vermont to Africa

I mentioned in our last post that many of our political science majors take an interest in world affairs, even local affairs in seemingly far off places. This week, SMC senior Political Science and American Studies major Kate Bailey tells of her experience organizing a local chapter of the Dear Hillary Campaign to end sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

When Saint Michael’s students learn about issues that affect our community, we like to take action. That’s exactly what I did, along with a handful of other students, last semester through the Dear Hillary Campaign. The campaign began this summer targeting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on behalf of the tens of thousands of women that are victims of sexual violence each year in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC has been plagued by civil war for over a decade and is known as the deadliest conflict since World War II. What is uniquely heartbreaking about the conflict is that rape is used as a weapon of war on a massive scale. Saint Michael’s students learned about the conflict through the Student Global AIDS Campaign’s efforts to better connect with our refugee community in the neighboring towns. We asked how we could help them adjust better to their new lives in Vermont, but they assured us that our best efforts could be used as a voice for their friends and family still at home in the DRC.

So we decided to send birthday postcards to Sec. Clinton on her birthday on October 26. We used Facebook, Twitter, and a website to get our message out. Our original goal was 10,000 postcards sent to the State Department, but we ended up exceeding our goal to 17,000! We originally wanted 50 chapters- one for each state- but had 56 chapters (four internationally) by October! With this great success, we called the State Department and asked for a meeting with Sec. Clinton. We aimed high, but were successful at getting a meeting with the Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues (and a personal friend of Hillary’s) Melanne Verveer. During finals week, we got together a car of six students, two Congolese- Americans, and Professor Laurie Gagne and drove to Washington, DC for the meeting. We were greeted there by about 30 other members of Dear Hillary chapters from around the country. Ambassador Verveer seemed to understand our message and we emphasized the sense of urgency we all felt to prioritize peace in the DRC. We brought a platform of proposals that basically stated that humanitarian aid alone will not stop the rapes and murder from the conflict; only diplomatic, political action will bring peace.

We left the meeting even more fired up to advocate on behalf of the Congolese community that has become our friends. Students have a lot of political power and it is our responsibility to tell our politicians what matters to us. We are now in “phase two” of Dear Hillary and are so excited to have even more students involved. Check us out on Facebook and think about getting involved!


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