Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Serendipity 11. A Most Unusual Birthday Celebration

So, yesterday I celebrated the birthday of a person I've never met by going on a hike with an incredible award-winning filmmaker, watching the devastating film she produced, and signing a post card. All of these activities were connected to the "Dear Hillary" Campaign, a movement created and deployed by a number of friends, colleagues and students here at Saint Michael's College and in the greater Burlington Community.

Two of the organizations I'm active in, the Vermont Global Health Coalition and the SMC Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) have been working with some of the leaders of our local Congolese community for a couple of years now to try to put pressure on the US government to make the ongoing war and concurrent atrocities, including and especially the use of rape as a weapon of war, a serious priority. To us, it seems beyond the pale that this conflict, which has created far more death and suffering than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan put together, should be almost unknown to the average American and so low on the priority list for the US State Department. Working with a number of national advocacy groups, especially Friends of the Congo ( --whose office visit I wrote about in the post before this one -- we've done work locally and in Washington, DC.

But this most recent campaign was the brainchild of my friend and colleague, Laurie Gagne, who directs the Edmundite Center for Peace and Justice here at Saint Mike's. She thought of the idea of celebrating Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's birthday by flooding her office with postcards from around the country entreating her to celebrate her birthday by enforcing a law that's already been passed, PL 109-456 (DRC Relief, Security and Democracy Act). To help people learn more about the importance of the issue and mobilize post card signers, the Dear Hillary Campaign created over 50 chapters around the world who agreed to show the film "The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo" to interested community members. This film was produced by Lisa F. Jackson in 2007, and among other awards, was the recipient of the Sundance Special Jury Prize in 2008. Although it's very hard to watch, having viewed it twice in auditoriums full of people, I can definitely say that once a person sees it, it's impossible not to be affected and want to do something to right away. With that in mind, here are the links to Lisa's web site and the film, as well as to the Dear Hillary Campaign site: and, both of which have more info on the film and trailers for it.

Although I had a shamefully small role in all of this -- a few meetings and some postcard stamping -- Laurie generously delegated some of the hosting duties to me when Lisa came to town, and yesterday afternoon I got to show her a bit of Burlington and do a quick hike up Mt. Philo together. That's her at the top. I think she liked Burlington almost as much as we in Burlington liked her, and I hope that she'll be back, perhaps to speak about some of her other films, at some point in the not-too-distant future.

The heros of this event were, of course, the Core Organizing Committee, and there's a group picture of them with Lisa: Pierre (who also happens to be a Congolese playwright in his second year as resident scholar here at Saint Mike's), Leah, Laurie, Rachel, Mia, Cleophace (who, with his wife Malinga have been fabulous activists for the Congolese community here), and in the front row, Kate and Samantha. Of the committee, two students, Kate and Leah chaired the work, and that's Kate showing off the program with the logo she created for the campaign. The one person from the committee who didn't make it into that group shot is Ashley, a Saint Mike's grad who now works at neighboring Champlain College. She's also the coordinator of the Vermont Global Health Coalition, and is shown here with Laurie (and check out Laurie's awesome Congo jersey that was a gift from Cleophace).

The event at Saint Mike's took place before a packed auditorium. In addition to hearing some African drumming, we sang happy birthday to Hillary with the help of Katarina and the Acabellas (the unfortunately dark picture in this set), listened to Lisa give a keynote address, watched the film, signed the cards, and of course, had a birthday cake. Afterwards, a number of us had a meeting at the SMC Center for Women and Gender with Lisa to figure out next steps, and that's Drisk, Kate and Mia having some Thai food while strategizing.

If you get a chance, please do check out the links in this post. (And here's one more -- a story our local news station, WCAX ran last night -- ). If you're interested in getting involved in the campaign, since last night was, as they say, merely the end of the beginning, please shoot me a message or contact the Dear Hillary Campaign directly. The situation in the Congo, especially for women and girls, is terrible. But it's not going to change unless a whole lot of us do a whole lot more.

1 comment:

  1. Dear all of you who have worked on this,
    You are MARVELOUS (and I am slightly envious)

    Thank you so much for your amazing and hard work, your commitment, initiative, and creativity. Very proud to be your friend and a member of our wonderful organizations (VGHC, SGAC).

    Biggest thank you to Laurie Gagne. You have outdone yourself again!

    much love.