Jon Hutson Says, “Enough!” to Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity
July 1, 2010 by
Filed under Activists, Blog, Books, Chad, Conflict Minerals, Congo, Darfur, Disaster, Front Page, Genocide, Human Rights, Humanitarian, Nonprofits, Refugees, Slideshow, Social Action, Sudan, War, Washington D.C.
Jonathan Hutson serves as the director of communications for the Enough Project in Washington, D.C. Enough is a part of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank. Not long ago, a director of communications would have been confined to print, television, and radio to spread an organization’s message. Today, it’s a whole new game, with social media gaining in prominence as the medium of choice.
Fittingly, Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) first became aware of Hutson through Twitter, where WeFollow.com ranks Hutson (@JonHutson) as among the most influential Tweeters on human rights and justice. We asked Hutson to tell us about the Enough Project and how they use social media to further the organization’s critically important international work. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
HUTSON: The Enough Project was launched three years ago, and is helping to build a permanent constituency to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity. We are calling the U.S. and the international community to action — to witness horrible human rights violations and to take measurable, meaningful action that stops ongoing atrocities and prevents their recurrence.
Here’s the latest example of our work: a witty video by actor/director Brooke Smith and cinematographer Steven Lubensky, called “I’m a Mac… and I’ve Got a Dirty Secret.” It’s about Congo conflict minerals; it spoofs an iconic Apple ad. Since Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof launched the video in a column called “Death by Gadget” in the Sunday, June 27, 2010 edition of The New York Times, this video has gone viral. It’s been covered by Gizmodo, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, ComputerWorld, Planet Green, Elephant Journal, TreeHugger, and CNN International. Please take a look and share it with friends.
BPGL: What motivated you to get involved in human rights work?
HUTSON: I want to work with people whom I trust and enjoy for causes that I feel passionate about. Throughout my career, I have sought ways to fulfill those goals in various roles. I have been an investigative journalist; a law student; and a communications director for several national nonprofits working on issues of social justice, environmental responsibility, and human rights.
My role now with the Enough Project brings together a confluence of influences, skills, opportunities, and connections. It puts me together with a crackerjack team that is working to shape policy at the highest levels in the international community — with the U.S. government, with other governments abroad, or through international cooperation. The Enough Project is creating noise and action about some of Africa’s worst human rights crimes.
BPGL: What is an area you’re focusing on today?
HUTSON: One of the things we’re working on today is promoting greater awareness of conflict minerals. We want consumers to know how the mines in the Congo produce minerals that wind up in your laptop, your cell phone, and the electronic devices that you use every day.
What’s unique about the Enough Project is that we have policy analysts that work together with field researchers and communications experts. They gather and analyze data in the field and from many sources around the world. They have the practical know-how to analyze that information, propose policy changes, and get those proposals to decision makers who shape policy around the world.
BPGL: Give an example of one way you’ve been successful in getting your message in front of decision makers.
HUTSON: Recently we were able to get two videos about Darfur in front of President Obama in the space of 48 hours. On Saturday, January 30, President Obama and Vice President Biden went to the Georgetown-Duke basketball game at the Verizon Center in D.C., and the halftime video playing on the Jumbotron was a one-minute video from Enough Project, called “Basketball Rivals Team Up for Darfur.”
It was a powerful joint appeal from students at Duke and Georgetown asking for Hoyas and Blue Devils fans to support the Sister Schools Program that assists Darfur refugee children who are trying to get an education in the camps in Chad. And it worked.
To commemorate World Refugee Day on June 20, Georgetown and Duke Universities’ students and alumni, business leader Ted Leonsis, NBA Star Tracy McGrady, and the Enough Project have jointly announced that they have raised funds to sponsor a Darfuri refugee camp school in Chad. Georgetown and Duke students and alumni raised $21,661 at the game, which was matched by Ted Leonsis, a member of the Georgetown University’s Board of Directors and owner of the Washington Wizards, Mystics, and Capitals. McGrady then donated the remaining funds needed to support Aboutalib A, a school in Chad’s Goz Amer refugee camp. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, will oversee the delivery of the aid.
To date, the Sister Schools Program has raised enough money to support 12 schools in the refugee camps. The money goes to construction and rehabilitation of school buildings, and provides teacher training, school supplies and sports equipment to the Darfuri refugee camps. More than 200 U.S. schools are participating, and more than $649,000 in donations and pledges have been raised since its launch.
BPGL: What was the other video that Enough Project got in front of the president?
HUTSON: On the following Monday, February 1, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to do a full interview on YouTube and on the White House website. The interview was through CitizenTube, which is YouTube’s channel for ordinary citizens to engage the White House and government.
The way it worked was, YouTube had a contest. And they said anybody could submit a question for the president to answer in an interview that was a YouTube follow-up to the President’s State of the Union address. The Enough Project submitted a video question on Sudan, and the general public voted it as the most popular foreign policy question.
The president had omitted mention of Sudan in his State of the Union address. We wanted to call this to his attention, because he had declared Sudan as a key priority for his administration.
There were 14,000 questions submitted. The president addressed only 12 – including a video question on Sudan from Enough Project intern Alison Grady.
BPGL: How did you manage to get your question enough attention to be voted the most popular one? With 14,000 questions, the odds of voters even seeing the Enough Project’s submission were minute, without some kind of promotion.
HUTSON: In order to get our Sudan question adopted by the general public as the most popular foreign policy question, we ran a social media and blog and email campaign. That was spearheaded by our social engagement guru, Web Producer Zack Brisson. He championed the idea that we should submit a question and organize an online campaign to have people vote it up.
We used Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. And we reached out to friends at other non-governmental organizations, such as the Genocide Intervention Network, Invisible Children, and Change.org, all of whom work on humanitarian and human rights issues and are important allies of ours. They got their supporters involved as well and got them to vote up this question to ask President Obama.
YouTube played a little video of an Enough Project intern asking the question, and the president answered it. His answer went on for about 2 ½ minutes — one of the longest responses he’s given on the record to date about Sudan.
So, thanks to that dynamic social media campaign — a type of interactive engagement that my Center for American Progress colleague Alan Rosenblatt calls “social advocacy” — online voters made clear that they wanted the president to better explain what he’s doing to avert a resumption of widespread bloodshed in Sudan.
BPGL: Were you satisfied with President Obama’s answer?
HUTSON: We were gratified that he addressed the question and found some reason for hope. Yet, we also pressed him for more clarity. We asked him more specifically what the U.S. is waiting for in putting real pressure on the Sudanese government. The president seemed to imply that it’s a case of engagement versus pressure. And we were saying that the U.S. should be working to build a coalition of countries willing to escalate pressures in support of peace.
Those pressures could include targeted asset freezes and travel bans, expansion of the arms embargo, denial of debt relief, and suspension of aid to a deeply flawed election process. Introducing those pressures into the equation could influence the calculations of the responsible parties and urge them to move more quickly toward a sustainable peace.
We’re highly creative in reaching out to policy makers and mobilizing the general public to call attention and to focus policy makers’ attention. I do expect that we will be able to continue our dialog with the White House.
BPGL: On the same topic, who else are you pushing at high levels, besides the president?
HUTSON: Some of the key players involved in conflict minerals in the Congo, for example, are corporations. We’re reaching out to corporations — such as Intel; HP; Dell; Nintendo; Apple; RIM, the makers of Blackberry; and other cell phone and laptop manufacturers — urging them to take a pledge and implement a process to ensure that there is no blood on their cell phones and laptops.
It’s important to recognize that, in our global community, corporations play a vital role. We’re asking them to be responsible global citizens. That’s good for the planet, and it’s good for the people on the planet. It’s also good for their branding and their bottom line. We ask electronics device manufacturers to do the right thing for the right reasons. This is a win-win situation for everyone.
BPGL: Do you have a list of corporations who are abiding by your recommendations?
HUTSON: We’re right now in the early stages of talks with a group of companies that are beginning to consider making such commitments. We’re engaging their attention. We’re describing the policies that we’re looking for.
We’re looking to facilitate the international community and responsible manufacturers to create and support an entity that would have more independence and more authority than what we’ve seen with the Kimberley Process addressing the blood diamond issues.
The referee needs to be independent, and that means not owned or controlled by corporations or the governments. It needs to be truly independent in order to have credibility and effectiveness.
BPGL: Does the Enough Project provide information to help the general public understand the issues?
HUTSON: There’s a great video on the Enough Project website: Conflict Minerals 101. It explains how Congo’s conflict minerals leave a trail of blood and destruction as they make their way from the mines in Eastern Congo to the mobile phone in your pocket. This is a four-minute video that gives you an overview and shows why these precious minerals are essential, how they’re used, and how armed groups control the mines and reap the profits.
It’s all broken down by Enough Project’s co-founder John Prendergast. John is currently putting the final touches on a book called The Enough Moment, which Random House plans to launch on September 7. He’s writing the book with actor and activist Don Cheadle, the star of the critically acclaimed film “Hotel Rwanda.”
They previously co-authored a book called Not on Our Watch, which made it to number 4 on The New York Times Bestseller List. We’re planning a national media campaign around the new book. The title, The Enough Moment, refers to personal statements by leaders who talk about how they came to a personal decision to stand up, speak out, and join with others to help stop human rights crimes.
The book will also have a toolbox for activists who want to learn more and take measurable, meaningful action to stop genocide and crimes against humanity. And it will be paired with a multi-media web site, coming soon.
BPGL: Can individuals use the toolbox, or is it only a toolbox for leaders?
HUTSON: The subject matter primarily addresses human rights crimes in Africa, such as genocide and crimes against humanity. But the practical lessons on how and why to become involved on the larger level would be applicable to people in many kinds of issues and people from many walks of life.
We’ve got all kinds of people in our media campaign. John Prendergast — whom we affectionately refer to as “JP” — has recruited Hollywood stars, rock and country singers, leading activists, and people who help shape policy. We’re going to launch a series of online videos where people talk about their Enough Moment. We’re visualizing a website where people might be able to upload their own texts, slideshows, and videos that tell their personal stories about the moment they decided to stand up, speak out, and organize with others to stop Africa’s greatest human rights crimes.
The lessons shared will mostly be universal, though, and could apply to many issues. As our Director of Online Communications, Jenn Sturm, says, “Every activist has a moment when she says, ‘Enough!’”
We view the book The Enough Moment not just as a static document, but as a living resource in tandem with the website that would form the hub — an online clearinghouse where people could network, share their stories, find inspiration, and practical tools for moving forward.
BPGL: Are the website and book tools that could be useful in any conflict? I’ve seen highly contentious debates between reasonable people on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example.
HUTSON: I think what we’re trying to do is show people as role models and sources of inspiration and information to encourage others to take action in their own way. We would look for our website to be a safe space for people to contribute their personal stories, network with others, and find resources and practical tools for taking action. One of the keys for effective inter-group dialog is to have honest talk on hot-button issues.
You often need to create a safe environment where it can’t be anything goes. You have to have certain ground rules and social norms of behavior. It really is something that the community can decide on standards of acceptable behavior and promote and enforce those.
We haven’t designed the area yet, so this is something we’re just now contemplating. These are a lot of the questions we’re asking ourselves to build and maintain online community. Right now, one of the things we’re looking at is simply setting the right tone and giving people meaty substance to consider. Obviously, inappropriate content could be screened out. Basically, we believe that most people receive this information in a gracious spirit and respond to it in a very positive way.
People are looking for tools and role models. They’re looking for specific things they can do to take measurable, meaningful action that’s not just the equivalent of signing another online petition and forwarding it to a friend, but something that actually makes a systemic change and a measurable, meaningful impact in the world.
BPGL: Is Enough Project focusing solely on Sudan and the Congo right now?
HUTSON: Our mission is to build a permanent constituency of people to research and speak out and take action to stop and prevent genocide and crimes against humanity. So, right now, Sudan and the Congo are two countries that we focus on, along with areas of Africa where the notoriously brutal Lord’s Resistance Army is using rape as a war weapon and abducting children to turn them into child soldiers. But I expect there will be other areas in the world where those issues arise that will also merit our attention.
We think that conflict will happen, but we don’t believe that genocide and crimes against humanity are inevitable. We do believe they can be stopped, and they can be prevented. But it takes informed, aware people who are willing and prepared to take assertive, focused action on a systemic level. So what we’re looking to do is change the way that policies are made and business is conducted and change the way that people understand and respond to the information that’s available.
We want to make sure that people have the right tools, whether it’s comprehensive, accurate, timely information about what’s happening or whether it’s the practical know-how to connect with others who share their concern and want to stand up and take action that will resonate around the world and change whole systems.
BPGL: Has the Enough Project done any work with the situation in Gaza?
HUTSON: The Enough Project has not really been involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. One pathway for hope that I personally see in that type of situation is a group called Seeds of Peace. I wrote about this a little bit in a book published by the University of Michigan, Intergroup Dialogue: Deliberative Democracy in School, College, Community and Workplace. I contributed a chapter on places around the world that model effective intergroup dialog that leads from honest talk to healing action.
One of the resources I pointed to was this group Seeds of Peace, founded in 1993. They bring together young leaders from Israel and Palestine for workshops and dialog facilitated by older mentors from Israel and Palestine.
You’re catching people at a stage where their minds are open. You’re creating a safe space where they can lower their defenses and can truly hear the legitimate concerns and the valid expression of feelings that people have to where you can understand that conflict is not all one sided on one side or the other.
But everyone has a meaningful role to play in de-escalating conflict and promoting peace. That does take honest talk. It takes active listening, and it takes meaningful action, where people build and maintain communities, and they reach out across barriers and borders. Those can be mental borders. They can be physical borders. When people are sincerely interested in building bridges, not just walls, change is possible. And the hope needs to be fed. When I use the vocabulary of hope, I don’t mean wishful thinking. I mean a practical plan of action that produces tangible results that people can see, touch, and feel — sooner rather than later. That’s what I mean by hope.
And I like the name. It’s a well-chosen metaphor, because they’re talking about seeds of peace. They’re talking about growing. That growth could be personal growth. It can also be growing the whole community. It could be growing positive feelings. It can be growing plans of action. It’s talking about growing things that are essential to sustain life for all of us.
It’s important to have groups like that where it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. Those questions ultimately can’t be answered in a satisfying way. We all have a part of the problem, and therefore, we all hold a part of the solution.
BPGL: Any final word of advice for activists?
HUTSON: The final take-away lesson I’d offer activists is this: Stop asking, “What can we do?” That’s a disempowering question. It leads you to inhibit your thinking: “What can we possibly accomplish when the money and forces arrayed against us are so great?” Instead, ask, “What needs to be done?” And then do that, even if it is impossible. Your job as an activist is to make the impossible possible and then get it done.
Follow Jon Hutson
Website: Enough Project
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)