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Hamilton Extends the Olive Branch

July 10, 2009

Rebecca Hamilton responded to my last post with two.  I commend her for having the guts to do this, seeing as how others we’ve critiqued haven’t even dignified us with a single response.

In one post, she says that she’s not gonna engage in this exchange, as she condemned these types of back-and-forths before.  I get trying to avoid looking like a hypocrite, but I’ll also point out that she condemned these exchanges, which she says can easily devolve into “personal attacks,” in the very post in which she originally took a shot across the H.M.S. SDAP’s bow.  Don’t start the dialogue if you’re against it in principle.  Just sayin.’  To respond to her points:

1. SDAC says: “the root of the problem [with my research] is the apparent lack of diversity of opinion in your interviews with paid U.S. advocates.”

On the advocacy aspect of this project I am interviewing both former and current members of the U.S. based movements as well as advocates outside the U.S., critics and commentators. On the policy aspect I am speaking with members of the Arab League and African Union as much as I am to the US Government or UN. However many of my interviews are off the record or done under certain conditions of confidentiality. As such, I’m not talking about them on my website.

First off, I was very careful (perhaps not careful enough, though) to not criticize the diversity of people she speaks with outside the U.S. Darfur advocacy community, i.e. paid advocates.  I can’t comment on the diversity of people she interviewed at the AU, so I didn’t.  If anyone at the AU or Arab League believes that Hamilton is only interviewing select groups of people in those communities, I strongly encourage them to speak up.

Secondly, SDAP identifies none of its sources by name and often refrains from using specific anecdotes to protect people’s identities, but the overall thrust of what those sources are telling us is made clear on our blog.  That is, we may not name who we’re talking to, but we certainly get their message across.  Based on the overall thrust of her blog, it seems that alternative viewpoints, even anonymous ones, have not been expressed in interviews she’s conducted.

2. SDAC says I am a “cheerleader” for the SD movement.

The point of this research is provide the basis for assessing if/when advocacy has had a positive/ negative/ non- impact on policymakers and on the ground (these two things not always being the same). I can already tell the book will be plenty critical – but the focus will be on actions, and not on personal attacks.

Like I said before, I hope I’m wrong about the book.  On the “personal attacks” bit, I respect what she’s saying, but I think that she should at least entertain the possibility that the personalities of some people involved in the movement have affected its “actions” and overall effects on policy and on the ground.  It’s great to avoid ad hominem attacks, but it’s a mistake to ignore the role that personalities play all together.

For example, take the whole China/Olympics campaign, which Hamilton recently wrote about. When SDC’s “China campaign” was started, the person put in charge of it was an old friend of the now former ED.  They were even roommates in college, apparently.  I once inquired about his credentials as a China expert, and I was told by senior staff that the extent of his expertise involved him visiting China once.  Even internally, SDC’s China campaign was ultimately considered unsuccessful.  Now sure, discussing the relationships of staffers may get into personal territory, but I think it’s fair to explore such terrain when it may explain the outcome of an advocacy campaign.  Why did the China campaign fail?  Did it have anything to do with the qualifications of the person running it?  Did the fact that that person was running it have anything to do with the fact that he was a friend of the ED?  You can avoid personal attacks, but it may be helpful sometimes to explore the roles of things like personal relationships in advocacy.  If some in the movement make advocacy decisions personal, or mix their personal and professional lives, why should pointing it out be off limits?  They’re the ones that introduced the personal element in the first place.  I understand not wanting to make it personal, but be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In the other post, she invites us to meet with her and discuss our point of view.  This is what SDAP wanted all along, and we are very pleased with her gracious invitation.

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