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November 14, 2010

St. Mike's Student Activists Score DC Meeting With State Department Staffer

Congo-campaignEditor's note:  Seven Days contributing writer Kevin J. Kelley, who teaches in the St. Michael's journalism department, wrote this post.

St. Michael's College activists campaigning against rape in Congo will be making their case in Washington next month at a scheduled meeting with a top State Department official.

Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, agreed this week to meet on December 15 with a delegation from the international Dear Hillary Campaign for Congo. The movement originated on the Colchester campus.

A group of St. Mike's students had organized a postcard drive urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to do more to end an epidemic of rape in eastern Congo (pictured here: organizers Leah Ziegler and Kate Bailey, photo credit Jordan Silverman.) Some 15,000 women have been sexually assaulted there in the past year, the United Nations estimates. The UN refers to eastern Congo as “the rape capital of the world.”

Members of the 56 Dear Hillary chapters in the United States and four other countries sent 16,000 postcards to Clinton on her birthday, October 26. “As a gift to yourself and the women of the world,” the cards read, “we ask that you make peace in eastern Congo a foreign policy priority.”

St. Mike's organizers followed up the mass mailing by calling the State Department to request a meeting with Clinton. They were directed instead to Verveer, who offered to talk with representatives of the campaign for at least an hour.

Laurie Gagne, director of the college's Edmundite Center for Peace & Justice, says she's disappointed that Clinton herself did not agree to meet the students. They were told that the secretary of state would be unavailable through Christmas, although Gagne hopes that Clinton may “pop in” during the meeting with Verveer.

The State Department's willingness to schedule a session with an ambassador-at-large does show that “our commitment to this cause has brought results,” Gagne says. Accompanying her to Washington will be seven St. Mike's students and two members of the Burlington-area Congolese community.

They plan to press Verveer on the hundreds of millions of dollars a year in military aid that the Obama administration supplies to Rwanda and Uganda. The UN has accused forces from those two neighboring countries of carrying out war crimes in eastern Congo, including mass rapes.

You go, girls!

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