Learning from Students who STAND to Stop Genocide in Darfur

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Between 2003 and 2005, , in the Darfur region of Sudan, the
government and Janjaweed militias burned and destroyed
hundreds of rural villages, raped and assaulted thousands of
women and girls, murdered over a hundred thousand people
and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands more via starvation
and disease. According to a survey by the Coalition for
International Justice and the World Health Org a n i z a t i o n
(WHO), 400,000 people have died since the conflict in Darfur
began in 2003. They estimate that 140,000 have been killed by
Janjaweed and government attacks and that another 250,000
have died from disease, starvation and exposure. This breaks
down to the deaths of 500 people per day or 15,000 per month.
The Sudanese government’s campaign forced more than
two million Darfurians from their homes into the inhospitable
desert without food, water, or any other way to sustain life. As
of 2006, some 1.8 million live in camps in Darfur and approximately
220,000 have fled to Chad, where they struggle to
survive in camps that are repeatedly attacked by militias and
around which women are raped as they look for essential firewood.
In addition to the people displaced by the conflict, at
least 1.5 million other people need some form of food assistance
because the conflict has destroyed the local economy,
markets, and trade in Darfur. Just like the genocide in Rwanda,
the slaughter in the Balkans, and the Holocaust, this crisis
has received little attention in the media and even less international
Only 7,000 African Union troops have been deployed to
keep the peace, and they do not have a mission to protect
civilians. This inexperienced, under-funded and under-staffed
force has been only minimally effective in creating security in
the region and militias continue to attack refugee camps and
aid workers. Recent peace talks among the Sudanese government
and the rebel groups they seek to destroy, the UN
promise to send troops in 2007, and international awareness
events offer hope to an end of the conflict. However, immediate
NATO peacekeeping troops and funding are needed to
secure the region and to ensure humanitarian aid to the victims
of the crisis.
On April 30, 2006, with the stark white U.S. Capitol
Building as a backdrop to a simple stage, over sixty speakers
and performers, including directors of activist organizations,
religious leaders from many faiths, political leaders, survivors
of genocide, country music stars, sports stars and one
movie star, created a spectacle to end the worst human rights
crisis of the new millennium. As I stood on tip-toes in my
bright green “Stop Genocide in Sudan” T-shirt trying to see
Senator Barack Obama, Ellie Weisel, Al Sharpton, Pulitzerprize
winning author Samantha Power, Big & Rich, George
Clooney and other presenters on the stage and jumbo screen,
I became frustrated with trying to see over the large crowd.
Before expressing internal complaint, however, I remembered
what a wonderful problem a crowd is for as an activist.
On a sunny afternoon on the last day of April, I was one
among tens of thousands of people on the lawn of the U.S.
Capitol demanding that it be the last day that the U.S. and
international community ignore the Darfur human rights crisis.
Chanting “Never again”, “Not on our watch”, and “You
are not alone,” my voice joined the thousands of others in
Washington D.C. and at rallies across the country demanding
intervention to end the genocide in Darfur that had been raging
for three years.
The Save Darfur Coalition, a coalition of over 100 humanitarian
and human rights organizations, coordinated the rally.
As members of Save Darfur, Students Taking Action Now:
Darfur (STAND) and the Genocide Intervention Network
(GI-Net) are two student-based national organizations that
brought over 800 students from around the nation to the rally
and hosted a weekend, April 28-30, of student activism for
Darfur. Approximately 25 students from the University of
Illinois along with 80 from Northwestern University traveled
16 hours on a bus from Evanston, Illinois to Washington D.C.
to attend the weekend events, lobbying their congressional
and senate representatives on Friday, attending informational
workshops on Saturday, and rallying on Sunday.
Student volunteers coordinated the events. They set up
lobbying appointments, organized meeting space for workshops
at George Washington University and found housing
for 800 visiting students. Volunteers also created, compiled
and distributed to each workshop participant a packet of
information for lobbying and a binder with tips on how to
organize summer action. These student volunteers were able
to produce a professional and well-attended conference and
to mobilize a coordinated lobbying effort and provided tools
for continued activism.
GI-Net and STAND offered a brief training and reference
packet to each student who had a scheduled meeting with
their representative. The lobby packet included information
on the background and goals of STAND and GI-Net, updates
on the current situation in Darfur, and current needs or
requests to make of government representatives. STAND and
GI-Net officers provided lobbying training before appointments,
including review of the meeting outline, etiquette and
role plays of both a successful and an ineffective meeting.
They provided a unified message and requests of the representatives
including sponsorship of House Resolution 723,
support of NATO enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur
and deployment of on-the-ground troops, and funding for
peacekeeping in Sudan.
After a day of lobbying, STAND and GI-Net gathered
workshop participants for a large morning meeting and an
afternoon of brainstorming and guidance in regional groupings.
At the morning meeting, Samantha Power, Pulitzer prize
winner for A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of
Genocide, offered encouraging words to student activists:
“You are always going to be seeing what efforts you are
not achieving,” said Power. “There is hope in what you’re
doing…always remember that fewer people are dying than
there would be if you were doing nothing.”
After Powers’s lecture, participants broke up into groups by
region of the country. They brainstormed on how to expand
activism beyond the campus environment to their local communities
in the summer. These meetings and a binder with reference
material covered three steps – recruit, meet and take action
– and provided resources on how to accomplish those steps.
Despite being organized by all student volunteers, the
weekend had a strong impact. Lobbying resulted in the Senate’s
approval of the requested $173 million in emergency
funding for peacekeeping in Darfur. Also, the Sunday rally
generated 850 news segments on U.S. and Canadian radio
and TV and hundreds more in the print media.
Peace groups can learn not only from the well-organized
lobbying and conference of Darfur student activists, but also
from the foundations and regular practices that support them.
STAND was a single campus student organization that was
founded at Georgetown in September 2004. There are now
over 190 chapters at universities across the country, including
Action Darfur at the University of Illinois. The group has
grown both through grassroots contacts and the resources
they make publicly available.
STAND has an executive committee and regional coordinators
that contact and provide resources to the local chapters.
The organization has a user-friendly website, standnow.
org. On the new chapter page of the website, STAND
emphasizes that if you can provide the people, they will provide
the resources and tools for activism. STAND also gives
step-by-step instructions on sponsoring events and gaining
public support and media access. For each event, STAND
gives guidelines on offering clear information about Darfur
and national awareness campaigns. They also provide a
media kit, including sample press releases and alerts, which
local groups can use to gain media attention. STAND provides
all the tools necessary for successful grassroots campaigns.
It maximizes the potential of individual groups, but
also unifies these groups to have one strong message. STAND is also an example for other
grassroots movements on how to effectively
cooperate with other organizations.
STAND offers links to other groups on its
website and promotes other groups’
activities. It also encourages its chapters
to seek support and work cooperatively
with other human rights organizations.
The Awareness Week Events at the University
of Illinois in February were coordinated
by Action Darfur but were sponsored
by eleven other student organizations.
STAND and GI-Net also
announced during their D.C. activism
weekend that they will combine their
forces to create one long-standing genocide
awareness and intervention organization
that will have a continuing presence
beyond the Darfur crisis.
You can support the awareness work
of these students by staying updated on
news about the Darfur crisis and spreading
that information to friends and family.
You also can contact Rep. Timothy Johnson
and Senators Barack Obama and Dick
Durbin to tell them to support funding for
the peacekeeping missions in Sudan with
at least $700 million in 2007 and to pressure
for NATO enforcement of a no-fly
zone and deployment of peacekeeping
troops. Finally, you can send an on-line
postcard to President Bush at
w w w. s a v e d a r f u r. o rg to urge him to live
up to his promise of “Not on my watch.”

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