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Costs of Convenience

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People steal, they cheat and lie
For the wealth and worth
It will buy
But don't they know
On Judgment Day
Gold and Silver
Will melt away

~ Hank Williams

Quite literally dripping with electronics, I walk through Dulles airport to my gate. I am holding my iPad, downloading books from Kindle to have to read while on my journey. So far, I've chosen Kentuckian Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; she came to mind, of course, because her spectacular book, Poisonwood Bible, is set in Zaire (now DRC). I've been meaning to read this one, and the amazing Blackberry Farm, over in east TN in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, was featuring it in their gift shop. It felt like a good fit, a distracting, companionable counter point to the aim of my trip. I've also downloaded something I hadn't known existed, an Elizabeth Cady Stanton Bible, as well as Dietrich Bohnhoeffer's Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. I have been studying the 104th. It about says it all, as far as I can tell. I wanted it on my iPad.

I am also carrying my iPhone. Charging it in the lounge, I nearly forget it, and scoop it up hastily. It dangles like a fashionable necklace as I juggle everything: bag, elevator buttons, doors to pull, passport to display, boarding pass.

My iPod is in my bag. I decide I want my full music library, not just the partial one (spiritual, recovery) I have loaded on to my phone. The size is convenient. Goodness gracious, I don't want to have to have my MacBook Air out just to listen to music, when I could have instead something that fits in the palm of my hand.

Also in my bag is that MacBook Air. I was determined to bring only the iPad, and had loaded classic movies on it, thinking I may want occasionally to take my mind off the matters at hand in DRC, for some lightheartedness, self care, a reminder the whole world is not woe, and that art and movies help with what woe there is. (I have recently adopted an older feller to be a grandfather figure to me, and at lunch the other day he was saying I should be proud to be an actor. "The Germans, God, in the Depression, all they had to turn to was Hitler. We had the movies! What would we have done without them?") But I am not yet comfortable writing lengthily on the iPad, and have had some scary episodes losing significant chunks of work, and not being able to work with timely, deadlined documents others send me.

I didn't even want all this stuff. My iPod was in gift basket from an event, about eight years ago (yeah, still rockin' the classic). My iPad was a gift from a generous producer. My perfectly good previous iPhone was stolen, and Baton Rouge had plenty of the new ones, so, movie star whatever excitement in the store, and I somehow ended up with one. This is typical of the Saturation of Stuff that characterizes much of our society.

And that is how I, on my way to Democratic Republic of Congo to educate myself first hand about conflict minerals and advocate for a clean supply chain, am at the same time utterly complicit. My electronics, received as gifts or purchased, profit armed militias and support slavery. I am financing mass rape as I enjoy these ridiculously Global North ultra-efficiencies and conveniences, for large scale rape is the preferred predation mining interests use to humiliate and terrify local populations, in order to control resource areas. The UN notes that virtually every mine in DRC is militarized. This means little to no tin, tantalum, and tungsten is mined free of brutal exploitation, extortion, violence, rape, rape, rape.

My phone vibrates (thanks, tungsten). My music plays, using stored electricity, thanks to tantalum. My laptop screen lights up and hums, thanks to the tin used to solder its circuit boards, and the gold used as an electronics component. I e-mail my human rights traveling partner, Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast, and compose letters to the Congolese sister I sponsor through Women for Women International. I hurt, even as I try to help, via the very actions and tools I use to try to make a difference.

What good is gold

And silver, too

If your heart's not good and true

Sinner, hear me when I say

Fall down on your knees

And pray

AppIe is known for the clean lines of their products, the alluring simplicity of their designs. Dare I....go so far....as to suggest...this signature cleanness is stained by the shit and urine of raped women's leaking fistulas?

I dream of the day when Apple and other electronics companies fully commit to tracing, auditing, and certifying the minerals they use in their products, and rape minerals are successfully excluded from the marketplace. We no longer have lead in our paint. Companies report with full transparency contents and manufacturing processes in order to assure public health and gain consumer confidence. This is no different. It is a minimum standard of conduct.

I dream of the day when North Americans recoil in horror at the introduction of an otherwise revolutionary and exciting electronic product that lacks TAC....when the queues are expressions of solidarity for 11-year-old mine slaves, women whose vaginas have been perforated by object insertion rape, and families forced to eat one another in each other's presence.

In fact, I have just decided what I want for Christmas, which will be here before I know it.

What do you want, this holiday season?

I board my flight.

I turn on my iPad.

I write this diary.

I hurt, even as my life is dedicated to helping.

For I'd rather be

In a deep dark grave

And know that my first soul was saved

Than live in this world

In a house of gold

Than deny my kind

And doom my soul

I rest on the flight to Brussels, but I do not sleep. I recall something I have been thinking about lately, aspiring to apply it to genocidaires, to FDRL, to Congolese military, to all armed militias, even the ones who make people eat each other.

My friend Victor Chan recounts in his book with the His Holiness the Dali Lama an exchange between HH DL and a fellow Lama, who had been tortured by the Chinese.

"Were you ever afraid?" HH DL asks his brother.

"No," replies the man.

"Really? You never felt fear?" presses the great spiritual leader.

Pause.

"Yes. I was afraid I would lose compassion for Chinese," is his surprising concession.

I have this book on my (yes) iPod. If I get a massage, I listen to it, or Archbishop Tutu's wonderful book, which has the added benefit of being in his own irresistible voice. When I heard this line, "Yes. I was afraid I would lose compassion for Chinese," it took my breath away.

My spiritual growth cannot afford the convenience of hate. The cost is too great. It makes me no better than they. I am asked to examine the violence in my own thoughts, where all violence starts. I am asked to regard even "justified anger" as a dubious luxury. I am asked to remember, I have no idea what I am capable of, under such circumstances. I am asked to love my enemies.

What is this grace, that allows me to feel mercy for the murderer?

This essay is excerpted from a trip diary by actress and humanitarian Ashley Judd. She traveled to eastern Congo with John Prendergast, Co-founder of the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress (www.enoughproject.org), to raise awareness of how the global trade in conflict minerals fuels rape and sexual violence as a war weapon. For more information on the campaign against conflict minerals, visit www.raisehopeforcongo.org.