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By Kristin Sundell, ETAN National Field Organizer

ETAN was formed in late 1991, following the massacre of over 270 unarmed East Timorese civilians. Several activists came together, believing that for change to happen in East Timor, U.S. support for the Indonesian occupation would have to end. The media coverage surrounding the Santa Cruz massacre provided an unprecedented opportunity to create grassroots pressure.

Awakened by the Santa Cruz massacre, energized by the courage of the East Timorese people, and outraged by the key supporting role the U.S. has played throughout the Indonesian occupation, activists across the country joined ETAN. They realized that East Timor exemplifies many other struggles for human rights, corporate responsibility, and demilitarization. The struggle for East Timorese self-determination is winnable, and if the U.S. and Indonesia reverse their present course, a strong precedent will be set towards demilitarization and freedom in other parts of the world.

East Timorese resistance leaders and academic analysts have identified changing U.S. policy toward Indonesia as the most effective way to end the Indonesian occupation. ETAN is working to convert Americans’ lack of knowledge about East Timor into awareness, consciousness, and action. Our imperfect democracy gives Americans more opportunities to act, at less risk, than people in East Timor or Indonesia.

We define our scope in several ways:

* We are single-issue, focusing on Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and the U.S. support of that occupation and genocide. However, we work with many peace, human rights, religious, labor and other groups and networks which have East Timor as part of their agenda. As East Timor is not a “right” or “left” issue, we work with people and groups across the ideological spectrum.

* We see the East Timorese people’s right to self-determination as an integral part of the solution to the current crisis there.

* We embrace a broad range of approaches from public education to protest, lobbying to local organizing, resource production and distribution to media work.

Acting Locally

ETAN’s small national staff and budget cannot reach the great majority of the people in the United States. Much of ETAN’s work is carried on in local communities, schools, peace and justice groups and religious institutions. Acting locally is key to making national and global policy changes.

Although individual activists can accomplish much, several people struggling together can do much more, as a local organizational structure magnifies and concretize our efforts. In many communities, ETAN members have come together to form local chapters. In addition to providing mutual support and education, and being able to take on more ambitious projects, a formalized group is taken more seriously by the media, elected officials, and other opinion leaders (and followers). Chapter members decide to work together, on an ongoing basis, to educate their community about East Timor.

ETAN currently has fifteen active chapters around the country. A chapter should include at least five committed people. Chapters receive priority services from National ETAN, discounts on books and other resources, and participation in ETAN national strategy decisions. Chapters do not pay dues to National (or vice versa), although National sometimes makes loans to chapters to help them get off the ground. Some chapters are city-based, while others are formed at a particular school or university. ETAN’s structure is flexible, and each chapter is free to choose its own structure, provided that its goals are consistent with ETAN and it is committed to nonviolence.

To become a chapter, a group should write a short statement describing goals and plans for the chapter, introducing the folks who plan to be active members, and identifying a steering committee representative and a contact person. For examples of statements or organizing ideas, contact Kristin Sundell at etanfield@igc.apc.org or 518-877-8230. Ideally, the steering committee representative would have access to e-mail, and be able to participate in discussions and meetings (every 1-2 years) of the national Steering Committee, which includes one member chosen by each chapter. Requests for chapter status should be sent to the ETAN national office, which forwards them to the Steering Committee for approval.

National ETAN employs three staff people: a Washington Representative, a Field Organizer, and a Media Coordinator. All are available as resources to local ETAN chapters. If an individual or a group is not able to form a chapter, they can also serve as a contact person for their area. The names of local contacts may be given to other groups or individuals in the area interested in becoming active on East Timor.

Local Organizing Ideas

Each ETAN chapter independently decides which activities to undertake. However, educating the local community about East Timor and lobbying elected officials are important parts of the work of most chapters. Most also join in nationally-coordinated Days of Action, such as the December 7 anniversary of Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor. A growing number of groups are also targeting corporations involved in Indonesia for sanctions or divestment.

Possible local activities include:

* Setting up tables or distributing flyers at public events and in public spaces.

* Making presentations to college and high school classrooms, churches, human rights or peace groups, etc.

* Letter-writing or phone campaigns to stop U.S. arms sales to Indonesia.

* Working with local media to provide op-eds, letters to the editor, and information to improve coverage of East Timor.

* Organizing events for visiting speakers. ETAN organizes several national speaking tours each year of East Timorese and Indonesian activists. We also have a speakers bureau of U.S.-resident experts who are available at almost any time.

* Public demonstrations against the Indonesian occupation of East Timor and the corporations and public institutions which support it.

* Meeting with Congressional representatives locally or in Washington as part of ETAN lobbying campaigns.

* Sponsoring film or video screenings to raise consciousness and/or funds.

* Coordinating actions, events or conferences with others, such as groups dealing with Burma, Nigeria, Tibet; Peace Action, Amnesty International; local peace and justice organizations.

* Working to pass state or city-wide legislation to institute sanctions against corporations selling weapons to Indonesia, stealing East Timor’s resources, or otherwise supporting the Suharto regime.

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