The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Complexity, Money, and Subtle Activism

This post was written by Luke Kubacki, STAND’s Campaigns Coordinator. Luke is a rising junior at Ohio University.

If there is one central idea that sums up my college experience so far, it would be this: everything is more complicated than I first thought.

Some examples.

“So I need to take 12 more classes from political science, African area studies, and anthropology to graduate.” Pause. “It’s more complicated than that.”

“So we find this Joe Kony guy and the fighting stops.” Pause. “It’s more complicated than that.”

“So I just fill out the application made up of two major essays, three recommendation letters, an online application, and an event attendance requirement and I’ll be eligible for the scholarship.” Pause. “It’s more complicated than that.”

“So I just tell everybody I know Tim and they’ll let me stay at the party.” Pause. “It’s more complicated than that.”

“So I just sit her down near a pond where it’s not raining and tell her how I feel and she’ll really, really want to kiss me.” Pause. “It’s more complicated than that.” (Good try, though)

I’m sure we all have hundreds of our own examples of this life lesson playing out. Unfortunately, there is a huge temptation to fight this complexity instead of embracing it, ignore it instead of engage with it. The second we decide to ignore this complexity is the second that we allow injustice to infiltrate areas of our life that we have the power to influence. This happens all the time both in our personal day-to-day as local, national, global citizens, and in history as we look at big picture in war, peace, atrocity and prevention.

As students, we all have different complexities we must choose to engage with in our particular concentrations. There is one system, however, that we all interact with most days and whose complexity has great potential for excruciatingly incremental, but real, social change.

Spending money.

We all spend money all the time. For a lot of us doing this whole college thing, our lifestyle, with the cost of attending school, costs more money in this season of life than it ever will… hopefully. Much of the time for me, spending money is thoughtless. If I need or want something, I evaluate whether I can afford it, then I either buy it or I don’t. My thought process is usually focused on my wants and needs and capabilities instead on the significance or social weight of the expenditure. I rarely think about what these $4 mean beyond, “I need toilet paper.” (Toilet paper always feels ridiculously expensive to me.)

The significance reaches far beyond me or us, however. The power in our spending is a complexity that many of us don’t engage with during our day-to-day spending. More and more, as our options have become aisles long, everything we buy is as much a decision tonot buy something else. Each dollar we spend is an investment in something, and also an investment in everything that went into getting that something to you. When you buy an organic apple instead of a conventionally grown apple, you buy an apple, sure. But you also invest in the ideas behind organic agriculture.

This thinking is nothing new. What we need to do is realize that there is no neutral. A dollar spent, no matter how hard we think about it, is a dollar invested in a labyrinth of different ideas. Once we acknowledge that, a responsibility falls on us to make sure that our investment is a wise one.

That is where genocide prevention comes in (finally, Luke, gosh). The various conflicts that are currently ongoing and that continually emerge are not isolated in a vacuum; they are fed by the unstoppable exchange of ideas and goods that flow through our conversations and communities. In short, what we do influences, with various degrees of subtlety, conflict areas around the world. When you look at the importance of currency and physical resources in fueling or sustaining conflict, the gravity of even our personal financial decisions is easy to appreciate as we watch them multiplied by many millions across the globe.

This responsibility is heightened, however, when we look beyond our personal lives and examine our collective influence associated with the communities we are a part of. Personally, as an American, I look at United States’ foreign policy as one of these influences. The aid we send, where it goes, where we invest resources, why we invest resources etc. are all ways that Americans, as a community, support ideas that have profound influences on conversations happening around the world.

Focusing in on students, one of the significant communities within which we as students have an influence is our schools. Here at Ohio University, which I can see from here on my front porch as I type, there has been a significant and prolonged push for ethical investment practices rooted in a Conflict Free Campus Initiative (CFCI) campaign started a number of years ago. A group of students, who would later become a STAND chapter, saw their university community and the money that it invests, as a huge opportunity for responsible promotion of ideas on a scale significantly larger than each individual acting alone. Over the past 5 years, that pressure to eliminate conflict minerals from the university portfolio has spilled over into pressure on the university to invest responsibly in a number of other issues.

These investment procedures vary from place to place and are always very intricate and complex. The ways that our money decisions, both personally and collectively, influence the global conversation and even atmospheres of genocide, are subtle and hard to connect. Again the message: it’s more complicated than you think. But we, as an engaged community of students, must be sure to embrace the complexity of these connections instead of shying away from them. There is no neutral. Once we ignore the responsibility of this interconnectedness because of the complexity, we open our influence up to irresponsible and damaging effects that can have significant impacts.

Here are some steps to take when thinking about this subject:

Think of the thing you buy most often (coffee for me) and do a little research. Trace the physical resources that are used and the ideas that are promoted when you buy the item.

Take this same process and apply it to your school. What ideas are they promoting with the money that they have? (This information is usually complicated, unfortunately, and not easily found online, probably on purpose. I would recommend finding someone, a teacher, professor, or administrator, to explain it to you, but knowing the whole process, especially in higher education, is really, really helpful.)

Trace these ideas and products you spend money on and find ways that they link back to conflicts around the world. The STAND chapter here at OU was started by a girl researching the materials in her cellphone for a class and discovering conflict minerals mined in the Congo. There are connections, we just need to find them.

And finally, if you have cool stories or thoughts or anything to share, then SHARE. This type of subtle influence is something we always need to be reminded of. E-mail me at This topic fascinates me and I’d love to hear about anything you’ve experienced.

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