Special Briefing To Announce the Alliance of Youth MovementJames K. Glassman, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Jared Cohen, Policy Planning Staff
November 24, 2008
[Introductory remarks deleted.]
MR. MCCORMACK: See, Jim, they heard that you were out here, so they decided to come into the briefing. (Laughter.)
I’d like to turn it over to Jim and Jared. They’re going to be able to take your questions. And once they’ve completed and you have finished up your questions, I’ll come back to answer any other questions about news of the day.
So let me turn it over to Jim and Jared.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Thanks, Sean. About six weeks ago, I traveled to Colombia at the suggestion of my colleague Jared Cohen, to meet with some young people who last year started a movement on Facebook. And it was actually started by a 33-year-old unemployed computer technician named Oscar Morales who was, just like so many other Colombians, fed up with what the FARC, the violent extremist organization that’s been around since 1964, was doing to his country. He had no help from the government or no knowledge by the Colombian Government that he was going to do this, certainly no involvement by the U.S. Government either. He started a group on Facebook which mushroomed into a membership of over 400,000 people. And at the same time, some of the members suggested let’s have a march, let’s build a global movement, and that’s what happened. In February, this movement, the No Mas FARC, No More FARC Movement, which transformed itself into the Million Voices Against the FARC movement, put a million people into the streets in Bogotá, another 11 million into the streets in 190 cities around the world.
So I wanted to talk to Oscar and really get an idea of how this happened and see whether there were applications in other parts of the world. And as a result of those conversations and the work that Jared has done, between December 3rd and December 5th, that is to say next week, a conference is being held in New York City at the Columbia University Law School that will bring together 17 organizations around the world that currently have an online presence similar to the Million Voices Against the FARC Movement, but usually at a much lower level – 17 of these organizations, bringing them together with private sector partners, including Facebook, Google, MTV, AT&T, Howcast, Access 360 Media – and I may be forgetting some, and Jared will remind me. Columbia University is also – the Columbia University Law School is also a partner. And the idea is put all these people together, share best practices, produce a manual that will be accessible online and in print to any group that wants to build a youth empowerment organization to push back against violence and oppression around the world.
Also, a foundation will be created called the Alliance of Youth Movements. And a hub, an electronic hub, again, anyone will have access to it around the world. Now, this conference – the entire conference will be streamed by MTV and by Howcast. We are – we at the State Department are one partner. In fact, we take a back seat to what the private sector is doing, which is just fabulous. But we’re happy to have gotten this thing started, at any rate.
Some of these groups are anti-violence, in the sense of anti-crime. Some of them have a more direct anti-violent extremist cast to what they do. They’re from South Africa, from the UK, from the Middle East. We’re also bringing in seven groups of observers from countries – organizations that do not have a major online presence, from Iraq, Afghanistan. There will be participation from Cuba by -- not personal attendants, correct?
MR. COHEN: No, remote.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Remote attendants from Cuba. Anyway, maybe the best thing to do would be just to open it up for questions without going through huge detail to start with.
QUESTION: I’m curious, who might the remote attendants from Cuba be?
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Jared.
MR. COHEN: Right now, we –
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: You need to step over here.
MR. COHEN: I would say, you know, for the purposes of those groups’ safety and security, you know, right now probably wouldn't be the best time to mention their names. I can say that we’re working to – we’re working with organizations that have figured out on their own, through some proxies and other channels, how to actually participate in something that’s live-streamed online.
QUESTION: But their identities will surely be known then, won’t they?
MR. COHEN: Yes.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Well, I’m not sure that personal identities of the people who were --
MR. COHEN: No, the groups that we’re thinking about and working to try to get, they have their own methodology for staying anonymous. But you know, they’re going to be able to actually – what’s interesting about this is they’re actually going to be able to view it from an island where internet is more or less scare.
QUESTION: May I just follow up and ask, do we know anything about them? Are we talking about a youth organization, or do we know how many they are, or just anything else about this?
MR. COHEN: We’re working on one participant that’s a youth – that represents a youth organization.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: And let me just say, the Cuban group is somewhat unusual. Some of these groups are definitely concerned about safety, and so we are reluctant to announce who they are until we get close to the date, because we don’t want – we also don’t want them to be stuck in their own countries and not be able to come here. But in all cases, I think, except for the Cuban case, we will reveal them or they will be revealed at this conference in New York, which will be open to the press.
QUESTION: Are there any whom you can say right now? I mean, presumably –
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Sure. Oh, sure, lots of them.
QUESTION: -- the FARC, that’s – they don’t – the anti-FARC people aren’t going to –
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: We can talk about lots of them right now. In fact, we have a whole list of them. Do you want to talk about –
MR. COHEN: Sure. I mean, obviously, the most prominent of the groups is the Million Voices Against FARC, which, you know, again, as Under Secretary Glassman mentioned, is the organization that, using online media, you know, organized the largest protest against a terrorist organization in the last century.
Another organization coming is called the Burma Global Action Network. This is an organization founded by a girl named Sophie Lwin, who fled Burma when she was nine years old, was separated from her family for, I believe, about ten years, and then convening with people actually in the online world, built a movement that is comprised of half a million people creating awareness about some of the human rights violations taking place in Burma. And the event that actually precipitated this movement was the crackdown on the monks’ protest that we saw in Burma recently.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Let me mention the Egypt group, which is among the best known of the groups that we will be there, the Shabab 6 of April, which has emerged as Egypt’s largest pro-democracy youth group. And last – in April, the group staged a countrywide protest that led to some crackdowns by the government that led to some arrests and even deaths. And some of the leaders were tortured, severely beaten, and an effort that was – that backfired somewhat when pictures of their injuries were posted online. There’s actually a good piece about this group in the current issue, or last month’s issue, of Wired. And we will have some members from this group coming as well.
Do you want to talk about Invisible Children?
MR. COHEN: There’s another organization that I would imagine a number of you are familiar with called Invisible Children, which creates awareness about some of the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. There’s an organization called Fight Back coming from India, which has a phenomenal online model for creating awareness and pushing back on domestic violence challenges in India. There’s the Save Darfur Coalition, which, as you all know, has a tremendous presence online. There’s an organization called One Million Voices Against Crime in South Africa, which is actually modeled, to some extent, off of the Million Voices Against FARC Movement.
There’s an organization out of the UK called the People’s March Against Knife Crime, which is organized by two young women, and has organized marches in the, I think, about five or six thousands. There’s an organization out of Lebanon called Youth for Tolerance, which is a relatively new organization. It doesn’t have the numbers online that, say, Million Voices Against FARC has, but it’s doing some of the more interesting things online. And their mission is to try to address sectarian issues. There’s an organization called Young Civilians, which has about 2 million members.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Turkey.
MR. COHEN: That’s out of Turkey. There’s an organization called Iluminemos México, which is pushing back on crime and violence in Mexico. And then there’s an organization called Genocide Intervention Network, which uses the online world to create awareness about atrocities that could eventually lead to genocide.
So it’s really a diverse set of groups from a diverse set of countries. The type of violence that they’re addressing is everything from terrorism to domestic violence to a range of other issues. What we’re looking for is to convene, you know, the best case studies of organizations that have used successful online models to push back on various forms of violence.
QUESTION: What is the Turkish – what do they do – the Turkish Group, Young Civilians?
MR. COHEN: The organization Young Civilians, it’s a – they began online in 2006, and they’re a pro-reform, pro-democracy, pro-human rights organization that’s driven by a couple young kids in their early ‘20s. And they’ve grown pretty quickly in the last couple years, and most of the work that they do is online, but they have actually undertaken some pretty impressive marches in Turkey that have put thousands of people into the streets.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: And they’ve also tried to bring Armenians and Turks together.
Let me just add one thing before we take more questions. You know, during my confirmation hearings back in January, I made the comment that al-Qaida was eating our lunch on the internet. I actually think that that has changed and that the violent extremist groups that use the internet are using it in the old-fashioned way. They’re using it to instruct, to exhort, basically tell people what to do.
We feel that around the world, young people are using the internet to push back against violence in a new way, using social networking, convening large groups to have conversations, basically, to share information. And this is something that al-Qaida and the violent extremist groups cannot stand. They cannot stand criticism. You know, sometimes they’ll post videos on YouTube until YouTube takes them down, and they get tremendous amounts of critical comments. They don’t want that. Their whole philosophy is based on trying to isolate potential members and keep them away from critical comment, from discussion. So we want to take exactly the opposite tack, and we think that the technology that exists today is on our side; it’s not on the extremists’ side.
QUESTION: I don’t see any sign, though, of those kinds of groups yet among those you mentioned. I don’t see the anti-terrorist groups. Is there one from Jordan? I know there was a big backlash against the bombings that hit the weddings at these hotels. But among those groups, I don’t hear any anti-terrorist groups.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: That’s a good point. And the reason for that is that those groups do not have an online presence or a significant online presence at this point. And what we hope to do through this conference is to get young people interested in those places informing such groups. And we are going to have observers who have organizations that don’t have much in the way of an online presence but are interested in having such a presence, from Iraq, from Afghanistan.
Actually, one good example of one of these groups is the Qulliam Foundation, Q-u-i-l-l-i-a-m, from the UK, which is a counter-extremist group that was started by at least two, let’s say – I think it was two, former violent extremists themselves. And they’re doing great work, but the idea of building a movement online is not something they’re doing now, but maybe they’ll be able to learn how to do that.
We also – you know, we strongly feel that in the world in which we live today, that we as the State Department can be a facilitator or a convener, but we really can’t serve to actually build these groups ourselves. They would have – they would not have very much in the way of credibility. I don’t think they’d have the enthusiasm that these kind of home-built groups would have, which is one of the lessons from Colombia.
MR. COHEN:And if I could just add one more point to that. One of the things that we heard from the group in Colombia was after they successfully put 12 million people into the streets, they started getting Facebook messages from kids throughout Latin America and around the world, basically, with their own causes, wanting to know their methodology and how they did it.
And so already, you know, some of these groups that are attending, whether they’re observers or actual participants, are in dialogue. And a great example of this is the observer organization that’s coming from Afghanistan is already in touch with the Million Voices Against FARC movement, who’s helping them set up Facebook accounts and working with them to set up, you know, a Facebook group and actually working to get them online because they had never actually heard of Facebook before and weren’t too familiar with online social movements. So we’re hoping that, you know, the best case studies for, you know, organizations that have used the online space to push back on violence and oppression will ultimately inspire new movements in places that, as you mention in the front, are very key national security priorities.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: And the group from Afghanistan is called the Balkh, B-a-l-k-h, National Youth Federation, which is based on in the northern Balkh province of Afghanistan with Mazar-e-Sharif as the capital.
QUESTION: Do you know if they have internet access there?
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: This is a very good point. The question is about internet access. And one of the conclusions to draw from the Colombian experience is that you can build an online youth organization without extensive internet access. In Colombia internet penetration is not all that great either. And what the Colombians managed to do was find a way to build a movement where some people have internet access and they tell other people who don’t what they’re doing. And certainly, internet access is going to be spreading throughout the world, and there are also other means of communication using internet technologies, such as through mobile phones. But we – in a lot of these countries, internet access is very scant.
QUESTION: Can you talk to us about the State Department’s involvement? Is this a monetary involvement? Is this showing up with a delegation to take full part? You mentioned being a facilitator, but I’m a little – little confused on what the State Department’s role is.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Sure. There are, I believe, ten partners right now?
MR. COHEN: Mm-hmm.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Roughly – there are roughly ten partners and we are one of those partners. We have provided a small amount of money on the order of, I believe, $50,000 to the major sponsor in order to bring people to the United States. I believe that I am speaking. I will speak. I will be one of the many speakers, by the way, including Whoopi Goldberg, and the co-founder of Facebook will be speaking. But we are – we really have a very small role. You know, we got ten sponsors. I would say, oh, well, it’s sort of on the order of one-tenth.
We are not – the lead sponsor is Howcast.com -- Howcast.com, which is a website that does how-to videos, like how to tie a tie and how to avoid jet lag. And we actually are working with Howcast on some other projects, including one on the West Bank that I just visited last week. So we have some relationships with some of these sponsors, but generally – generally, not.
QUESTION: Secretary -- under which criteria you selected the 17 groups?
MR. COHEN: The main purpose in identifying the groups was that they had the methodology in terms of, you know, organizing online, mobilizing online, doing interesting things online, and that their methodology was tied to a nonviolent cause, which was extremely important, but it’s also crucial to mention that, you know, we – in the same way, that there’s ten partners and thus, we were one of many stakeholders that was part of a brainstorming session about, you know, which organizations would come.
And you know, also because of the time period in which this was organized, you know, we feel there are 17 really impressive organizations. You know, they may – you know, there may be some better ones out there. There may be some in other countries that aren’t included. It’s not – you know, it’s not necessarily a end-all, be-all superlative for them to be in attendance, but we feel these are 17 organizations that have the methodology, that can come together to synthesize those best practices and inspire new movements.
QUESTION: Did you approach any group in the Balkans?
MR. COHEN: No. No group in the Balkans is in attendance. I know that -- again, you know, among the ten different partners in this, everybody was spending months on Facebook just randomly trying to see what organizations were out there, making contact with different organizations to learn about their methodology and what they do. So it’s possible that some organizations were talked to in the Balkans. I personally don’t know the answer to that, but there was no one from the Balkans in attendance.
QUESTION: Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: And by the way, I think this is really an important point. What this meeting is supposed to do is kind of get the ball rolling. This is not – the 17 groups are not necessarily, you know, kind of the all-star team of Youth Empowerment organizations. They’re somewhat representative of what’s going on out there. But if this movement takes off, if the Alliance for Youth Movements takes off, there will be groups that don’t even exist yet that will be able to take advantage of what’s happening December 3rd to 5th and subsequently with this electronic hub that’s being built.
QUESTION: You mentioned a little bit of a problem of your involvement and the credibility of these groups. Have you given any thought to the flipside of that? I mean, in the – in cases like Burma or Sudan, Darfur, the LRA, you know, this is all great, well and good and for the FARC, too. But then you talk about groups that are in Egypt and Turkey who, presumably, those governments which are your allies -- one of which is getting billions of dollars a year from the U.S. and Egypt and the other one is a member of NATO – these governments may not appreciate your involvement in inspiring or in helping to create this network of people that are – that they could – would see, and in the case of Egypt, they do see as a threat. Don’t you run the risk of unleashing something here that is going to come back to bite you, especially with our allies?
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: We are very supportive of pro-democracy groups around the world. And sometimes, that puts us at odds with certain governments.
QUESTION: Yeah, but that’s –
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Now, we have to work with those governments. And let me also just say, there’s a difference on an operational level between public – what we do in public diplomacy and what is often done in official diplomacy. We are communicating and engaging at the level of the public, not at the level of officials. So you know, it certainly is possible that some of these governments will not be all that happy that – at what we’re doing, but that’s what we do in public diplomacy.
QUESTION: Well, that’s fair enough. But you still – if you – it may be official diplomacy, official government-to-government diplomacy to press for reform here, but here now you’re getting involved in something that you have zero control over at all. I mean, these group – any one of these groups could suddenly decide to, you know, turn violent or something like that. I’m just wondering if anyone has given any thought to the risk involved in kind of, you know, setting this thing up.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Well, I don’t think there’s a risk that individual organizations are going to turn violent. I mean, the organizations we have chosen specifically because they have a record of nonviolence. But I will say this, absolutely, that what we are doing in social networking, we in Public Diplomacy -- and I don’t want to speak for Sean, but I think this is also true in Public Affairs – involves more risk than the conventional approach which is isn’t the United States wonderful, here’s what we’re doing, listen to us. And our feeling is in Public Diplomacy that that is an approach that has limited application in today’s world.
People want to talk, people want to debate. And we think ultimately that’s a comparative advantage that we have over the bad guys. So we want them to talk, we want them to debate. And we are fully aware that the trail that they go down, while I don’t think it’s going to be violent, may be not exactly what we want to see as far as our policy is concerned. But we think that is well worth the risk.
QUESTION: And who will decide going forward who will get involved in this alliance? Because, you know, you do have youth groups say, like, I think it’s called Nashi, in Russia, which you know, has staged street protests around the Estonian Embassy and I think even around the American Embassy, which might not be looked on favorably by this government, and who have also used – I mean, I don’t know if Nashi organized it, but there were cyber attacks on Estonian sites, you know, coming from Russia.
So who’s going to decide going forward, you know, this --
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Well, let me just say for the record, we don’t like Nashi at all. What this organization is meant to do is to provide information. It’s an educational organization. It is not a – it’s not a membership organization where these groups are okay, these groups are not okay. It is true that any group, any person who wants to use the internet will have access to the information that’s on this hub. And we think that that ultimately is beneficial.
Do you want to add to that?
MR. COHEN: Yeah, and another important point to make is what these organizations are there to do is explain how social networks can be used to start new movements. And one of the advantages that we have over violent extremists and that is that social networks are actually not a useful place for violent extremists to actually organize, because at the end of the day, these organizations like Facebook and others have policies against organizing for violence and terrorism on their sites and will take down any sort of terrorist group that pops up on their site. So, you know, we’re driving young leaders towards a methodology that’s naturally conducive towards nonviolence – nonviolent movements.
And then the other point that I’ll make about your question is, you know, the engagement that we’re talking about is actually not that different than engaging with traditional, civil society organizations. These organizations online that are coming together are more of a new kind of civil society organization, that rather than starting in real life, starts online and eventually makes the transformation. So whether you’re dealing with or engaging with a civil society organization that has a sort of office and staff or one that’s online, there’s always risks; in fact, the ones that you mentioned associated with just that engagement.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: And I think this is an important part. We as a government have been engaging with such civil society organizations in places like Egypt for a long time.
MR. MCCORMACK: All right. Jared and Jim, thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY GLASSMAN: Okay. Thank you.
MR. COHEN: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks, guys.
Released on November 24, 2008