Picture
Kids at a school in Kisumu.
Common Cause International (CCI)
Update Spring 2011

Common Cause created its international program, Common Cause International, a little over two years ago.  Its focus is to promote public diplomacy efforts and partner with civil society organizations in emerging democracies in cultivating citizen participation and running effective campaigns.  Over the past two years we have conducted seventeen projects in twelve countries and hosted hundreds of international visitors from all over the world in our DC and state offices around the country.  In addition to our civil society partners featured below, we have also partnered with the Gates Foundation, Meridian International, National Democratic Institute, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the US State Department, Sister Cities International and World Learning.
------------------------------------------------------------
Program Highlights
Hungary and Slovakia
Over the next year Common Cause will be partnering with the Central European Division of the National Democratic Institute to conduct a project in Hungary and Slovakia designed to engage youth. The objectives of the program are to promote inter-ethnic tolerance, civic awareness, and participation among disengaged youth of Roma and non-Roma origin. Up to 100 youth, aged 16-21 from eight rural ethnically mixed communities in Hungary and Slovakia will be targeted by this program.  Common Cause will be involved in the civic education component and will assist graduates of the leadership development phase in designing local advocacy campaigns.
-------------------------------------------------------------
Country Updates
Mexico

Common Cause has three projects in Mexico. We are working with education advocates in partnership with Alternativas y Capacidades (Alternatives and Capacities) to address education reform needs. We are also working with Alianza Civica (Civic Alliance), a national group that shares many of the same goals as Common Cause in the US. A third project is with the recently created Ciudadanos Mexicanos en Causa en Comun (Mexican Citizens for a Common Cause.)

Causa Comun en Mexico

President of the Mexican based Cause Comun, Ma Elena Morera, came to Washington last fall to meet with staff and Common Cause President, Bob Edgar.  How the collaboration began is an interesting story.  A couple of years back, well-known Mexican philanthropist and activist Rodolfo Ogarrio walked into our offices with John Gardner's book, "In Common Cause," and asked for input about how to form a similar organization in Mexico. Gardner founded Common Cause in the US in 1970 and his book outlines the early struggles of our organization and the urgent need for citizen activism in the US on government accountability issues. Over the past two years we have been in dialog with our colleagues in Mexico and just last fall they formally launched their organization.  While we have no formal relationship with our Mexican cousins, we are working collaboratively on a number of issues.  Ma Elena Morera was in DC last fall to give Senate testimony, at the invitation of Senator Durbin, on how the current situation at our shared border is affecting quality of life issues in Mexico.  If you would like to learn more you can read her testimony here Alternativas and Capacidades

Alternativas y Capacidades

 Common Cause has been funded by the Open Society Institute to work in partnership with the Mexican based resource organization Alternativas y Capacidades to provide technical assistance in the creation of a campaign to improve the education system in Mexico. After a year of coalition building, training, and campaign planning, the campaign was formally launched in September 2010 with the release of a major report on the state of education in Mexico. The report documents several educational problems including the fact that while the Mexican government pays comparable amounts per student as other OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,) Mexican school children score last in student achievement. The report also outlines the dysfunctional relationship between the Mexican Government and the teachers’ union in Mexico the SNTE (the Sindicato Nacional of Trabajadores de la Educaction.)  The campaign urges the Mexican President and state authorities to revoke a 1946 legal order that gave the union the primary responsibility for education and makes it a governmental responsibility.   Media reception to the campaign and research has been ample and supportive, and a number of prominent citizen committees have been organized to support the effort.  

Sam Graham-Felsen, former lead Obama blogger and Common Cause International associate has been active with the coalition in identifying new media strategies that will work in the Mexican context.  Spanish speakers interested in the campaign can follow 
it on twitter at @singrilla, or visit their website at http://www.porlaeducacion.com/.
-------------------------------------------------------------
Kenya and Ghana 

Common Cause is partnering with Sister Cities International in the African Urban Poverty Alleviation Program (AUPAP) which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This past autumn, CCI Director Lauren Coletta and former Common Cause Executive Vice President Jon Goldin Dubois traveled to Kenya and Ghana to meet with local government officials and community leaders.  The purpose of the trip was to assess possible partnerships to conduct a community campaign to increase investment and attention to water and sanitation-related needs.   
Lauren conducted the evaluation in Kenya and visited Kisumu and Mombassa.   Kisumu is a Millennium Development City, the third largest in Kenya, and one of the poorest cities in the country.  (Lauren Coletta at a project in Mombassa) Even though Kisumu has access to a rich water source because of its location on Lake Victoria, almost half of its residents lack consistent access to an improved water source and the aged sewage facilities of the city are insufficient to meet the needs of the growing population.  This situation contributes to a variety of life- threatening health hazards.  Leaders in Kisumu are very interested in conducting a campaign to encourage the local government to commit “devolved funds”  to address the related health issues that are felt by many of Kisimu’s poor. 
Mombassa faces different challenges; it is located on low-lying land, on a high water table, and close to the Indian Ocean.   Most of the water serving Mombassa comes from outside of the community, due to the contamination of wells caused by sewage problems.  Due to the proximity of the ocean, high water salinity is an additional issue facing the city’s vulnerable water resources.  The Women’s Assembly of Mombassa, as well as the local Sister Cities and Rotary Committees, are interested in working with the AUPAP consortium and Common Cause.  We are still trying to determine if our focus will be on one or both communities as the project moves forward. 
Jon Goldin Dubois conducted the assessment in Ghana near the capital of Accra.  Jon visited a number of local communities in Tamale, Ga West and Ga East.  These communities are new to the AUPAP program and won’t be included during the 2011 phase of our work.  The response in Tamale on the part of community leaders and government officials alike was very positive and we are hopeful that we can partner with them in 2012.  
-------------------------------------------------------------

Vietnam
Last summer Common Cause President Bob Edgar led an interfaith delegation to Vietnam to investigate the impact of Agent Orange.  The delegation was sponsored by the Ford Foundation.  For background, in the 36 years since the end of the war between the United States and Vietnam, the two countries have made great progress toward friendly relations.  But the impact of the war still reverberates today in the lives of millions of Americans and Vietnamese.  These include people affected then and now, directly and indirectly, by the U.S. spraying of Agent Orange and other herbicides over rural South Vietnam.  The delegation met with government officials, medical personnel, and victims as well as “hot spots” left behind when the United States military pulled out in the Spring of 1975.  
The following leaders joined Bob on this journey: 
• Sister Maureen Fiedler, Sister of Loretto, PhD. and host of the public radio talk show Interfaith Voices. 
• Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO, Jewish Council for World Affairs. 
• The Rev. Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good and a Fellow at the Open Society Institute and UN Foundation. 
• James Winkler, General Secretary, United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. 
• Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr., First Vice President, Progressive National Baptist Convention. 
• Paulette Peterson, Clinical Psychologist, U.S. Veterans Administration. 
• Shariq A. Siddigui, the Executive Director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana and Director of Legal Services at the Julian Center. 
• The Rev. Michael Livingston, Executive Director, International Council of Community Churches and former President of the National Council of the Churches of Christ USA. 
• The Rev. Victor Hsu, former staff for Asian Affairs at both World Vision and Church World Service. 
• Susan V. Berresford, Convener of the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin and former President, The Ford Foundation. 
• Charles Bailey, Vietnam Program Director, The Ford Foundation

Common Cause continues to play a leadership role in raising the profile of these issues within the US so this long and sad legacy of the Vietnam War can fairly be remembered and addressed.

Egypt

Common Cause is working with youth organizations in Egypt in conjunction with the National Democratic Institute.  After a two-week training session last spring the focus of the current project is designing an advocacy guide focusing on young people, in conjunction with some web-based remote trainings.  Part of the reason for doing the work remotely relates to the current struggles nongovernmental organizations are facing in Egypt. The recently held parliamentary elections held this fall were significantly flawed, religious violence is escalating, and the upcoming presidential elections have created a difficult atmosphere for advocates.  Emphasis in the guide and trainings will be on documenting Egyptian-based success stories and gathering locally available advocacy resources, especially as it pertains to new media.  Sam Graham Felsen is consulting on this project as well.*  

**Due to the recent demonstration this week our project in Egypt is evolving.  We send our best wishes to the NGOs we work with in Egypt and hope for their safety.


Common Cause International
A project of the Common Cause Education Fund

1133 19th St., NW
Washington, DC
20036
Director:  Lauren Coletta
Email:  lcoletta@commoncause.org

Learn More:  http://tinyurl.com/625cfau

Support:  http://www.commoncause.org/SupportCCI. 

 
 Because Common Cause International will be involved in a civil society strengthening project in Hungary this year I’ve been tuning into Hungarian politics and movements.  Just by coincidence I had the opportunity over the last week to talk to a group of parliamentarians about the controversial new media law that is creating so may waves in Hungary and throughout European capitals.  I am also in touch with some activists in Hungary and it is interesting to get both points of view.

My interest is primarily in the organizing effort but I will do my best to explain the debate about the law below.  The law was passed just before Christmas and already the Facebook effort has led to 73,141 “friends,” a public demonstration of 10,000 plus in Budapest, and other demonstrations in Germany, Austria and Slovakia.    In addition, the organizing principles of the group have been translated by Facebook volunteers into 16 different languages.  

I wondered how this effort compares to other similar groups and movements.  I poked around to see how many friends some of the major US groups have and was a bit surprised at how many more the Hungarian organizers have attracted in such a short time.  Sure, the NRA one of the largest US based non governmental organizations has 260,197 members, but they have been around forever.  Groups similar in size to Common Cause, like the League of Women Voters, and Free Press, and SEIU have between 6,000 and 15,000 “friends.” 

Movements differ from organizations (although organizations are often part of movements) so maybe we should compare the Hungarian media movement to say…the Iranian movement?  The primary Iranian movement Facebook page has 91, 754.  But again they have been around since the controversial elections in spring of 2009.  And Iran has a population of 72 million; the population in Hungary is around 10 million, 13 million if you add Hungarian speakers in neighboring countries. 

What about the Egyptian activist using new media?  A major Facebook page for former Director of the IAEA and Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei for president has a total of 245, 519 friends in a country of about 83 million people, and that has been up and running since February 2010. 

If you check out the website socialbakers  you can learn all kinds of interesting stats on leading movements on Facebook, unfortunately most of them are really silly and have no social impact like “we won’t pay to use Facebook,”  and “join this group and your name with appear in the Guinness Book of Records.”

I think it’s safe to say the Hungarians are doing well, really well, in identifying their audience, getting the word out, and moving people to action.  Gratulálok!

But what is all the fuss about?  Tough to say exactly because lawyers are still mulling over the implications of the law and I couldn’t find the actual text in English to decide for myself.  The details will surely be out sometime soon as the issue is receiving so much attention.   With the Hungarians assuming the presidency of the EU it is not likely to go away any time soon.

This is what I have learned:  The Parliamentarians I met with who are members of the newly elected center right Fidesz party say the law has been completely mischaracterized.  They undertook the changes at this time because the law was badly in need of modernization and it was the first opportunity to do so because political majorities didn't exist before now to make the necessary changes.  They also said that much of the law was adopted from other European laws and rejected the criticism from European capitals and other opponents as inconsistent with the substance of the law.  You can read their statement here.

http://www.kim.gov.hu/english/activities/briefing/an_20110103.html

The activists are angry that there was no public input or comment period regarding the law and have serious problems with what they perceive as an effort the stifle freedom of speech and intimidate media makers.  Their proclamation to the Hungarian is pasted below.

PROCLAMATION:

To the Hungarian Parliament, Constitutional Court and Administration

We who signed this proclamation: the Hungarian media workers and civilians disagree with the media law approved in 2010. This law trespass press freedom’s and free speech’s rights. We want the following actions in the interest of our constitutional rights and human rights:

1. review of constitutionality of the media act, and its amendment;

2. representation of media workers during modification of media act;

3. to guarantee the political independence of media authorities;

4. to erase the possibility of undue and arbitrary penalties;

5. to respect the secrecy - protected by law - and respect the confidential sources of journalists;

6. to make the independence of public media editorial offices into rights;

7. to call in and consult the human, political and free speech protection organizations to the preparation of the Public Service Code.


It will be interesting to see how this pans out.  The Fidesz party has to feel squeezed with all the descent coming from organized Hungarians and major allies across Europe.  Stay tuned.