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Over the last two years I have traveled to Africa twice with NFL players Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald; this spring Roddy White joined us in West Africa to see the impact of mining operations on communities. The trip was in Senegal and was featured on ESPN in a segment on the network’s Emmy-winning program Outside the Lines, along with another piece about Anquan’s work with Oxfam in ESPN the Magazine. It aired last week and I just want to urge anyone who has not already seen it to check it out.
The inherent publicity of such a trip is great for the work Oxfam is doing with its partners. Over the years Oxfam’s work has been profiled in Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, Yahoo, and so on. The more people know about Oxfam’s work the better.
But we also need to talk to people who can help change things in the places where we work. That’s what made this trip so special: Anquan promised the people he met in Senegal that he would take their stories to Washington, and that’s exactly what he did.
Oxfam had been working to get a congressional hearing on extractive industries in West Africa , and just weeks after Anquan’s visit to Senegal he was testifying before Congress on the impact of mining operations on communities there.
What it takes to move Congress
In so many conversations I have with friends and coworkers we discuss what I’ve come to think of as the Congressional paradox. Congress is immovable, it’s impossible to get our agenda heard, there are so many issues ahead of our less attractive ones. And yet, a critical way to create the change we want is to move Congress. Where do you begin?
Maybe working with Anquan Boldin is one way. After this hearing a bipartisan group of 10 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) urging its 17 members to adopt a regional mining code that will address the loss of land, environmental problems, and human rights violations so many mining-affected communities in the region are facing.
Victories like a Congressional hearing can be few and far between in this work. We’re fortunate to be able to work with such amazing partners in Senegal, and here in the US, and we’re fortunate to have, maybe, moved Congress, if even just a little.