What Did I Do in 2012?

With 2012 flying by so fast, I wanted to document some of its highlights. For me it was a big year with a lot of growing and changing to work toward the person I’m trying to be. I’m often good at being too hard on myself trying to figure the world out immediately, that I forget that it takes time to learn and to realize what I’ve already accomplished.

I rang in 2013 with some of my favorite New Yorkers including Sarabeth, Elle, Brad, and of course my boyfriend Jon. We started off the evening at McSorleys before heading into Williamsburg to feel classy at a jazz bar. Even with living in NYC, I will never have any desire to go anywhere near Time Square.

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Jon and I at McSorleys

February brought my 4th Jack’s Mannequin concert. I’ve seen him in Cleveland twice, Columbus once, and now NYC. Sadly, he announced that the band was ending in November of this year.

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Andrew McMahon at Irving Plaza

In honor of Valentine’s Day, and as a part of Young Professionals of Amnesty International, we put on our “Make A Date with YPAI” event. At Lolita in downtown Manhattan we held the event to take action for LGBT rights including issues such as DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We had speakers who were professors, heads of organizations including In The Life Media, and ended the night with 2 transgender comedians and spoken word artist Athens Boys Choir.

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Myself speaking at our YPAI event at Lolita

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Athens Boys Choir performing at our YPAI event

In March, I was fortunate enough to attend two of my favorite opportunities that I had the entire year. First was the Amnesty International Secret Policeman Ball. A night of comedy and music to bring attention to the organization and some of the current urgent human rights abuses that were going on at that time. Radio City filled up with the help of a wide range of celebrities such as Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman, Coldplay, Mumford and Sons, just to name a few.

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Alex and I front row for Amnesty’s Secret Policeman Ball

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Cold Play performing

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Me, Steph, Emily, and Alex outside the event

A week later I was in Lincoln Center for three of the most inspiring days of my life as I covered the Women In The World Summit for Girls Who Rock. Jam packed with individuals who have been through the unimaginable and accomplished the incredible, I learned so much and never felt so motivated to keep working toward creating change. The summit ended with a speech by one of my favorite people, Hillary Clinton.

Tina Brown, Merryl Streep, Hillary Clinton

Tina Brown, Merryl Streep, Hillary Clinton

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Girls Who Rock Team

I ended March seeing Nick Kristof speak, which unfortunately I have no photos of, but you can read more here. April was filled with visitors. Both Jon’s family and mine made trips into the city along with college friends and a couple of guys from Germany. I began May with a trip to Ohio to spend my birthday in Athens, my favorite place in the world, and for our friends Mike and Mariah’s wedding. As I came back, my sister made a big move from NYC to Florida. Finally, it was time for the Girls Who Rock concert. As a digital engagement officer (the Twitter account was named most influential by Internet Week NY) for Girls Who Rock I had been helping plan and promote this event which would raise money for She’s The First to send girls to school at Shanti Bhavan in India.

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The performers and Girls Who Rock team after the concert at Gramercy

In June I found out I was accepted to take on a huge life goal of mine and travel to Ghana with The Humanity Exchange to work summer camps at multiple schools in the Western Region. The next month was filled with organizing paperwork and getting shots in preparation. The experience was as life changing and amazing as anyone could expect. If i begin talking about it I will never stop, so if you want to hear more you can see what I wrote during my time with these amazing kids.

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The rest of summer included playing kickball with She’s The First, holding a rooftop happy hour for Young Professionals of Amnesty International where we took action on the Arms Trade Treaty, speaking at the Amnesty office about conflict minerals in the Congo and other solutions to Kony 2012, and moving. After 2 subleases and squeezing 4 people into a 3 bedroom in Williamsburg, Jon and I finally signed a lease for the first apartment that was actually ours in Astoria, Queens. We also celebrated our 3 year anniversary on July 1st. As fall came around, we joined the Ohio University alums for a cruise on the Hudson River. I went on my first ever business trip for work to Greensboro, NC to represent Blue Outdoor at the Tanger Outlets Conference. Finally, I was made of honor in my best friend Rachel’s wedding.

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The bridal party

After spending the summer reading Half The Sky by Nick Kristof, the documentary was finally airing on PBS. I anxiously went to a few screenings ahead of time of course, one which included Nick, Sheryl WuDunn, and Olivia Wilde as speakers. I also spent a Saturday volunteering at the Global Citizens Festival, a massive concert in Central Park put on by the Global Poverty Project to raise money for some of the poorest areas of the world.

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Central Park Global Citizens Festival

At the end of October we made it through Hurricane Sandy only losing cable and internet, extremely fortunate compared to others in the NYC area. We walked outside to find our neighborhood damaged, but overall everyone in Astoria seemed to stay safe.

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Day after Hurricane Sandy in Astoria, Queens

I accepted a volunteer position as a Researcher for She’s The First for their schools in Uganda and South Sudan which I cannot wait to get started on! After much excitement and drama over the past year, we watched anxiously until 2 a.m. for Obama to win the election. Well, some of us made it the whole time anyways.

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Jon, Jacquie, and Chris on election night

We celebrated Thanksgiving with my parents coming to our apartment in the city. We held our final event of the year as the Young Professionals of Amnesty International on Guantanamo and stopping NDAA (which Obama recently passed unfortunately). The holiday season brought a delicious work dinner and bowling party, Lion King on Broadway for a night of fun with a few coworkers, and a trip to Ohio to celebrate Christmas, Jon’s birthday, and the New Year with friends and family.

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Eric, Erin, Jon, me, Rachel, Josh

This year brought so much inspiration, love, accomplishments, and learning. It flew by faster than I could ever imagine. So what will 2013 bring for me? So far I have resolutions including eating healthier and joining a gym (pretty normal). I’m also hoping to write more, maybe take the GRE and consider grad school more closely, narrow down a focus of what issues in the world I’d like to focus most on changing, get started with my role in She’s The First, try new things, and find some me time to relax. As most people are, I’m often hard on myself for not doing enough. But thanks to this blog, for me, I was able to see all of the things I did accomplish this year, and they were pretty awesome. Here’s to a positive and even more fun filled 2013!

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A Deadly War Funded By Your Cell Phone: Conflict Minerals and The Congo (Interactivist, fall 2010)

written by MARYBETH BOGNAR

photo illustration by RACHAEL LEMKE
photographed by SARA SALMAN

My story from the InterActivist.  For more information about how to make a difference visit enoughproject.org

What if you found out that purchasing your next cell phone, iPod, laptop or video game was funding one of the most violent and deadly wars to date? The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) currently has claimed over 5.4 million lives, with that number growing each and every day. Such a large number can be hard to imagine. Consider Ohio University being completely wiped out 315.35 times. That is the impact this war is having on one African nation. Congo

Patrick Litanga is a Graduate Student at OU earning his degree in African Studies. Litanga lived in Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC, until 2000. He has had first-hand experience with the violence that is still going on there. “I met with child soldiers and was arrested twice. It was extremely frightening,” he said. “I was lucky they let me go because the child interrogating me spoke my language.”

The children that had captured Litanga were between 8 and 10 years old. Litanga was 21 at the time. These children carried large weapons and dressed in their war clothing. “I remember seeing an 8-year-old boy carrying an AK-47 that was covered in Mickey Mouse stickers [while] riding a BMX bike with a hip-hop necklace on—these kids were the ones deciding who will live and who was the enemy,” Litanga said.

There are four main minerals that technological agencies are purchasing from the DRC to use in electronics: tin, tantalum, gold and tungsten. These four materials are not only funding the war, but are giving it the incentive and means to continue to claim lives.

CongoAccording to Litanga, the areas where these minerals are found are located in a very dangerous corner of the DRC. In this corner, rebel armies from Burundi, the DRC and Rwanda (including exiled Hutu tribe members), as well as the Lord’s Resistance Army, are primarily located. In these areas, children are exploited and forced to work in mining, and women are raped. Everybody is at the mercy of the rebels. The minerals being mined are then shipped to a refinery in Australia. United States’ businesses purchase such minerals from this refinery because it is very cheap compared to minerals coming from other areas such as Canada. However, the U.S. isn’t the only country funding this war by buying conflict minerals—other countries, like China, are doing the same. Litanga believes there needs to be “international pressure” in order to make an effective change and have a chance at ending a war that has been going on since 1998.

Ohio University is giving its students a chance to step up and make their campus conflict-free. Ellie Hamrick, a student at OU, is an anthropology major who has taken the initiative to spread the word and inform her fellow students of this crisis that she is extremely passionate about. She urges students to pledge themselves to be conflict-free by going to the Enough Project webpage (www.enoughproject.org) and joining the national campaign called Raise Hope for Congo. Hamrick says that by joining this campaign, students will be pressuring electronic companies to purchase from suppliers who aren’t getting conflict minerals from the DRC. This marketing will hopefully cause companies to fall into the conflict-free cycle.

CongoIt is not an impossible task. “Stanford University has already become a conflict-free campus. It’s our turn to do the same,” Hamrick said.

Hamrick has a plan for OU since she has already had a great deal of success. Her first initiative was to start a Facebook group to spread awareness and keep students informed of her plan. The Facebook group, called “Bobcats for a Conflict-Free Campus,” already has over 200 members and is still growing. Hamrick’s first piece of advice for those wanting to participate in this movement is to “join the Facebook group to not only stay informed, but publicly show others how many people are committed to supporting this cause on Ohio University’s campus.” Hamrick’s next step was presenting a resolution for the cause to OU’s Student Senate. She said the resolution is “urging OU to alter elect by changing its purchasing policy, monitoring its supply chain and tracing the regions that their supplies come from.”

On Oct. 13, 2010, the resolution passed at the Student Senate meeting. Although Hamrick was the leader, others also contributed to the resolution, like Anna Weisheimer, a business major who is also an East Green representative for Student Senate. At the meeting, after many questions were asked, the resolution passed unanimously. Many of the student senators spoke in support of the bill.

This resolution was passed during the open dialogue portion of the meeting. “Student Senate makes the cause more legitimate by writing up a resolution and bringing it to students and possibly even Ohio University’s President Roderick McDavis,” said Weisheimer. She also mentioned that though the resolution passed, the administration will continue to communicate with the Information Technology department (OUIT) to spread even more awareness.

CongoWeisheimer thought it was important for the student body to know about this weekly opportunity to present ideas to Student Senate—especially for all student activists, like Hamrick, who are trying to make a difference for a cause they are passionate about. Those who are interested in taking an idea to Student Senate should use the Student Senate webpage, contact the office in Baker Center, or schedule a presentation at the speak-out section of their meetings. “They rarely have anyone participate in this section, and it would be nice to see students more active and involved to help Student Senate increase their visibility,” Weisheimer said. “This year’s Student Senate is very open to taking radical ideas seriously.” These meetings take place at 7:15 p.m. every Wednesday in Walter Hall, Room 235.

Passing the Student Senate resolution was the first step in the right direction to being a conflict-free campus. Hamrick’s next step is setting up meetings with the OUIT so she and other delegates can pressure them to keep track of where their electronics are coming from. Hamrick also plans to start a public pressure campaign on campus and use petitions, flyers, speakers and protests to raise more awareness. She believes that if more students show their support, it will show administrators how important this issue is to OU students and sway them to pledge their support as well. This would officially make OU a conflict-free campus.

According to Hamrick, “Older people [in their 60s and 70s] talk about our generation seeming inactive and unmotivated. I’m excited to see this movement develop on campus and affect our daily lives. It is huge and emotional, and something we have control over. Passing something like this because we have leverage gives hope for ending conflict and provides motivation.”

Litanga thinks that awareness and communication on campus are very important. Such communication helps students know which companies to purchase electronics from. Maybe those companies will eventually offer a student discount for supporting electronics that don’t use conflict minerals.

Hamrick urges people wanting to get involved to join the Facebook group and to contact her directly. A member can serve as a delegate, help advertise, participate in demonstrations, and pledge to be conflict-free themselves.

“There is no price for human rights,” Weisheimer said. Purchasing minerals from an area that is murdering millions, raping women, and recruiting children soldiers in order to get a cheaper product is an unethical practice. It’s time for this issue to be exposed. If OU students, as well as people around the world, pledge their support, they can help bring an end to the war that has caused death, pain and suffering to millions of people.

Originally published in the Fall 2010 issue of The InterActivist.