Monday, May 08, 2006

Grass Roots Activism and Africa

Nicholas Kristof highlights individuals who have made a major impact in raising public awareness of the Darfur genocide. Kristof, himself also deserves, much credit. I was on a German blogsite the other day where the author was lamenting that there is no journalist like Kristof to consistently highlight global inequality, injustice, and genocide. He felt that is one reason that European countries, such as Germany, are not as active in the struggle for the victims of the Darfur genocide.

Yesterday, I attended a "Reno to Africa" rally at the University of Nevada, Reno, which was put together by several students at the University. There were about 8 bands and speakers who had  been to various countries in Africa. My son, Ryan and his friends and faculty advisor, had a table raising money for Darfur. All the students there were so inspiring, in their putting together this benefit event in the middle of finals week. E.G., I met one young lady, Theresa Torres, who sold all her worldly possessions and joined the peace corp a year ago. She has spent the last year in the poorest country in the world, Niger, as the only westerner in a village of 2500 people. She is back for a month to try and raise money for a pump well for the village. She will return for another year in August.

As she so eloquently stated, "Life tastes better over there."

For three grueling years, Eric Reeves has been fighting for his life,
struggling in a battle with leukemia that he may eventually lose. And
in his spare time, sometimes from his hospital bed, he has emerged as
an improbable leader of a citizens' army fighting to save hundreds of
thousands of other lives in Darfur.

Pressure from that citizen army helped achieve a breakthrough on
Friday: a tentative peace deal between the Sudanese government and the
biggest Darfur rebel faction, brokered in part by U.S. officials. We
should be skeptical that this agreement will really end the bloodshed —
past cease-fires and promises have not been honored — but also rejoice
in a glimpse of sun over the most wretched place in the world today.

the violence does diminish — and that will take hard work in the months
and years ahead — part of the credit will go to Mr. Reeves, a scholar
of English literature at Smith College who has used an arsenal of
e-mail messages, phone calls and Web pages to battle the Sudanese
government and American indifference. He was the first person I know to
describe the horrors of Darfur as genocide, and he financed his
quixotic campaign by taking out a loan on his house.

Perhaps the most striking distinction in the history of genocide is not
between those who murder and those who don't, but between "bystanders"
who avert their eyes and "upstanders" who speak out.
Professor Reeves
has been a full-time upstander on Sudan since 1999, back when the
people being slaughtered there were Christians in the south of the
country. He noticed immediately in 2003 that Sudan had diversified into
butchering Muslims in Darfur, and his frantic blowing of the whistle
helped alert me and others. Visit his Web site,, but be careful — his fury may set your computer smoking.

While Darfur has been incredibly depressing, the grass-roots
movement in this country to stop the genocide is immensely inspiring.

(To join, go to Web sites like or
The activist kids just bowl me over: girls like Rachel Koretsky, a
13-year-old who organized a rally in Philadelphia, distributed
circulars and conducted a raffle to raise money for Darfur as her bat
mitzvah charity project. So far, Rachel has raised $14,000 for Darfur.

kids like Tacey Smith, a 12-year-old in the farm town of Gaston, Ore.
After seeing the movie "Hotel Rwanda," she formed a Sudan Club with a
few friends and has raised $400 for Darfur by selling eggs, washing
cars and asking for donations instead of birthday presents. Her best
friend's Christmas present to her was raising $50 for Darfur. Now Tacey
is organizing a Darfur fair next month.

President Bush has been
more active lately on Darfur, and without the administration's
relentless pushing the peace deal on Friday would have been impossible.
But by and large, there has been a vacuum of leadership on Darfur over
the last few years, and ordinary Americans — particularly young people
— have tried to fill it. I don't know whether to be sad or inspired
that we can turn for moral guidance to 12-year-olds.

Then there
are the entertainers. Frankly, I think it's bizarre that we turn to
movie stars for guidance on international relations. But in this case,
I bow low to George Clooney, who had the guts to travel to the Darfur
area last month, and to Angelina Jolie, who has visited the Darfur area
twice and is pushing for action on Darfur more forcefully than almost
anyone in Washington.

t gets weirder: "CBS Evening News" decided that genocide wasn't
newsworthy, devoting only two minutes to coverage of Darfur in all of
2005 — but there's excellent coverage on MTV's university network and
in episodes of the TV show "E.R." set in Darfur. And one of the best
presentations of life in Darfur is in an extraordinary video game
developed with help from MTV and available free at In the game, you're a Darfuri, trying to survive as Sudan's janjaweed militias hunt you down.

that's how the response is unfolding to the first genocide of the 21st
century: a video game is one of the best guides to understanding the
slaughter, and our moral vacuum is filled by teenyboppers and movie

Someday we will look back at this motley army of children
and celebrities, presided over by a man struggling with leukemia, and
thank them for salvaging our national honor.

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