Some of our customers are doing such important, innovative, and amazing things with their spaces online that we can’t help but ask them to share their secrets.
Stand With Congo is a campaign advocating for peace in Africa’s second biggest country: the Democratic Republic of Congo. They organize activist communities within Congo, the United States, Canada, Europe, and across Africa to lead the push for transparency in extractive industries (like mines, where minerals extracted are used to manufacture cellphones and other electronics we use every single day) in order to ensure all dealings in Congo meet international standards. It’s their goal to raise global awareness about injustices happening in Congo in order to improve the state of peace in the nation and worldwide.
We chatted with Stand With Congo’s founder and Campaign Director JD Stier and Campaign Coordinator Garrett Moore to pick their brains about their work, and why activism matters.
How did Stand With Congo come to be?
JD: In 2011 I had a trip planned to shoot a documentary series in Congo and I was contacted by Robin Wright (yup – from House of Cards), who was starting to advocate for the women of Congo, but felt too removed from the situation. She asked if she could tag along on my trip. Robin, myself and a talented filmmaker named Mike Ramsdell, connected over a shared desire to increase public awareness of some of the issues Congo was facing. During our trips to Congo, people would look us right in the eyes and say, “What you can do is you can go back with your platform, your networks, your technology, and your resources and bring attention to this issue. And if you are successful in getting attention, our corrupt politicians can no longer operate in the shadows”.
We ended up collaborating to create a film that told Congo’s story, with a sharp focus on corruption and solutions. That resulted in an award-winning, critically-acclaimed film called When Elephants Fight. We knew the film had a big impact on its viewers and that it could become a key organizing tool to lift the Congo peace movement to new heights. To share it with as many people as we could we approached film festivals and worked to get it online, and we also built some momentum by having conversations at the White House, the US Special Envoys office and with the leading NGOs working on the ground in Congo and internationally.
We built a campaign around When Elephants Fight – using our website and social channels to share our commitment to the people of Congo with as many others as possible. The site was a platform for us to provide information about some of the issues in Congo and our asks for transparency in the region. It also offered a way for people to sign a petition, request a free screening of the film, and find NGO’s on the ground in Congo to support. Ultimately, Stand With Congo is an extension of the expertise we gained over the years to come up with a platform, a campaign, a narrative, and very specific asks for transparency in Congo. All the key players in this space agree: this is the path forward. If we can get people engaged and behind this campaign, we will see increased peace in Congo.
Why did you choose to call the campaign Stand With Congo?
JD: We have a lot of humility about who we are as international citizens. Congo is not our home. We don’t understand this conflict at the levels that anyone born, raised, and living amidst this conflict is going to understand. We cannot come in and say we have the solution: this is how we’re going to help you, save you, protect you, and raise you up. That just doesn’t fit with who we are or with the realities of the situation.
The film, When Elephants Fight, is a manifestation of the ethos that led us to our name. This film was Congolese-led with Congolese voices and Congolese narrative. That’s a message that drives us – a mantra that drives us. The film itself is about a fight; it’s a conflict. The film is about the war in Congo, it’s causes, and the peace movement originating in Congo that has gained increasing international support. The campaign is about solidarity, unity, and creating global citizenship that stands together for a common purpose. The name Stand With Congo is inclusive to everybody who’s leading the fight in Congo but it also empowers us to contribute and use our platforms and technology to stand in solidarity with the people of Congo who, every day, are fighting for peace.
How has bringing this fight online helped the cause?
Garrett: Bringing this campaign online gives us global reach while creating an accessible way to highlight the film and to share some of the key information about the issues the people of Congo are facing every day. The most powerful thing, though, is it allows for people to take immediate action by signing and sharing our petition – and if interested, they can request a screening of the film right from the site – so we can grow this movement and increase its impact.
The site also helps us communicate our request for people to not give Stand With Congo their money, but to give direct support to Congolese civil society leaders. Donations really do help – especially when given to the extraordinary partner organizations that are doing great work on the ground.
Why does activism matter?
JD: I was working in the Obama White House in 2009. I was young, and I believed that there was very clear right and wrong, and that there are a handful of issues in the world that we really needed to address. I thought if we had the right answers – if we came up with the right solutions – the politicians would just do the right thing.
It wasn’t until I was sitting inside the White House, as a presidential appointee working inside the administration, that I started to see that there are other people and other agendas in the rooms where decisions are being made. Whether it’s the White House or a corporate headquarters, there are people in the room that are scared to take risks. They’re hearing from activists, they’re hearing from filmmakers, they’re hearing from NGOs about what needs to be done, but they’re scared to take a risk. They’re scared it might backfire and they’re scared it might lead to unintended consequences.
What I learned is that when a movement matures to the point of bringing key stakeholders together – government, industry, private sector, and the public – and if there’s an organizing entity that can work with the major groups in the area, that becomes a message that even those who are risk-averse at the policy table tend to move into action around.
When I left the White House and entered Congo campaigning full time in 2011, first with the Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo campaign, that was my mandate. From that day until now, the guiding lesson learned was that you need to work with partners, you need to work with everybody in the relevant space, and you have to really harmonize common narrative and common message. Those are the major steps.
Then, lastly and most importantly, you’ve got to make noise. People have to engage online, you’ve got to bring people out to events, you have to fill auditoriums, you have to demonstrate the public’s support for the movement. We’re at that phase now where it’s about having big, high-level events to show the popular support that exists. All we’ve done is organize the platform to demonstrate that popular support. We’re going to fight and organize until those changes happen.
Do you have any advice for young activists?
Garrett: Absolutely. First – believe in your contribution. Each and every one of us have a role to play and a skill that we can bring to the table. You can make a difference on whatever topic you feel passionate about. If you follow that passion and bring what you can to the table, you’ll feel really good about it because you will be, even if in a small way, making the world a better place to be in. Movements throughout history and around the world show that young activists can cause great change.
Second – listen. Try to listen a lot more than you speak. We need to learn. We need to learn from people who know best, and that’s from people who are directly involved with the issues that we’re talking about. Looking at Congo, that means we need to listen to Congolese peace leaders and community leaders. That means we need to look to those who are doing the in-depth studies on the ground before we take action. We need to keep listening while we take action.
Third – take action. There is no time to wait. When something matters to you the way this movement matters to us, you can’t stop. We have to keep pushing this movement forward because people are dying and we can do something about it.
What are you most proud of in the campaign?
JD: I’m proud that we have built a team that is equal parts Congolese leadership, international leadership, and American leadership. The relationships between those teams are built on deep trust and mutual respect. This is the ideal. We’ve finally achieved the ideal as activists, of there being a genuine balance of power, sharing of resources, and advocacy across all our platforms. We get to come in and be the big, loud campaign raising the profile for everybody.
What’s your greatest challenge?
JD: The biggest challenge to us is engagement. It’s really difficult for any campaign dealing with complex issue. To many in the West, Congo’s issues seem far away even though we’re intrinsically linked to this conflict. That’s why it’s so important to bring this to public attention. Everybody makes a huge difference with one single tweet, one single click, one single share. That’s how we grow and become successful.
What’s next for you?
JD: We’ve kicked off a 50-campus tour and we’ve got a very high-level event coming up in New York City in May that’s going to include the full team: Robin, Garrett, Mike, JD, and Special Envoy Tom Perriello and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to moderate. We’re leading up to having some high-level events this fall in the U.K. with hopes of building the organizing movement to the point of getting the attention of the mining companies headquartered there and helping show them that there are solutions that they can take to become leaders in this situation.
How can people support you?
Garrett: Go to StandWithCongo.org and learn about the issues, sign and share our petition, request a screening of the film When Elephants Fight, Tweet, tell your friends – and we can grow this movement for peace in Congo together.
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Photo credit: Helene Esteves