The Unprecedented Student Movement Against Genocide

Written for Campus Progress and also posted at the Genocide Intervention Network.

Last Friday, more than 850 students from 46 states around the country came to Washington for the Power to Protect: D.C. to Darfur conference, sponsored by the Genocide Intervention Network and Students Taking Action Now: Darfur.

They made more than 300 appointments with the staffs of their representatives and senators, in each case pushing for support of the African Union peacekeepers in Darfur and a larger, stronger multinational force with the power to protect civilians from genocide.

On Saturday, students gathered at George Washington University for training in community organizing. This summer, these high school and college students will serve as the catalyst to start local anti-genocide groups in their communities — groups that will continue long after they return to school in the fall.

And on Sunday, these students joined 25,000 people in Washington, rallying alongside people in dozens of other cities in the United States and Canada, demanding a commitment to stopping the atrocities that both Congress and President Bush have declared to be genocide.

The anti-genocide student movement at the Capitol
The anti-genocide student movement at the Capitol.
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At the opening address of the conference, GI-Net Student Coordinator Bryan Collinsworth told the students, "Your efforts over the past year have genuinely accomplished something that still seems incredible to even imagine: you have moved the world closer to stopping a genocide."

This is absolutely unprecedented. Never before, in the face of mass atrocities, have we heard such a forceful and immediate outcry from everyday students. Even the great student movements that came before us took far longer to build to critical mass and burst onto the national scene than has our movement for Darfur.But again, here, today, after just two years, we have almost 900 student advocates who have made your way to Washington come hell or high water to stand up for the basic human dignity and human rights of the people of Darfur.And this weekend, you will be heard. If we've been inching the world closer to stopping genocide, we come here this weekend to give the biggest shove it's ever had.

And students were ready to take action. Telling their elected officials that "the time for complacency, for gradualism, for foot dragging, for anything but immediate and overwhelming action is over," Collinsworth and the students sent the message that "the dying in Darfur could stop this instant if those in power followed our lead and dedicated their hearts, consciences, talents and influence to making it happen."

John Prendergast, special advisor to the International Crisis Group, gave the keynote address on Friday
John Prendergast, special advisor to the International Crisis Group, gave the keynote address on Friday.
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"One hundred ten students boarded a bus from Chicago to D.C. to tell our representatives that our community will not sit idly by when 15,000 are being slaughtered every month," said Brian Schwartz, 22, from Wilmette, Ill.

"Genocide is happening right now in Darfur," said Sarita Rosenstock, 13, from Princeton, N.J. "After the Holocaust, America said 'never again.' I believe it is important to keep that promise."

Creating a poster for the meeting between D2D participants and the staff of Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland
Creating a poster for the meeting between D2D participants and the staff of Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland.
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Saturday began with a keynote address from genocide scholar and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Samantha Power, who lauded the students on their tenacity. "We have incubated and aided inaction [on genocide] in the past," she said. "We're not doing that any more." Principally, she said, that was because of student action.

The only sanction on countries in bed with Khartoum ... has been by students. When did you start making foreign policy?

While the United States has been the "least worst" country in taking action on Darfur, "everything the U.S. government has done on Darfur has been because of this public pressure," Power said.

Samantha Power speaks to the D2D participants
Samantha Power speaks to the D2D participants.
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Patrick Schmitt, the 2005–06 STAND Executive Director, identified students as the leading edge of both the anti-genocide movement and student organizing in general. "From an origin of a few young people at a few schools, we have launched what many are calling the largest student movement in more than a decade," he said.

We fought for the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. In one day, we added 11 Senate co-sponsors. Then it stalled in the House, and we pushed again. After months of struggle, we broke through, and it's now passed in both houses of Congress.We forced the resignation of one Robert Cabelly, a lobbyist hired by the government of Sudan to advance the interests of a genocidal regime in the Department of State and in Congress.And students have created the most successful divestment campaign since the anti-apartheid movement, and the fastest-growing divestment campaign in history.

D2D participants joined 25,000 people on the National Mall, demanding the United States support the African Union peacekeepers in Darfur and support a larger, stronger multinational force to protect civilians from genocide
D2D participants joined 25,000 people on the National Mall, demanding the United States support the African Union peacekeepers in Darfur and support a larger, stronger multinational force to protect civilians from genocide.
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And then the main event: On Sunday, 25,000 people converged on the National Mall, joining tens of thousands of others across the United States and Canada. Speakers included George Clooney, Olympian Joey Cheek, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel, Paul Rusesabagina of "Hotel Rwanda," Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Samantha Power, Ruth Messinger of the American Jewish World Service, and Erin Mazursky, the STAND 2006–07 Executive Director.

Nick and George Clooney
Nick and George Clooney.
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The coverage of the rallies were almost universally positive. The Washington Post had the best coverage of the D.C. rally (also see BBC, AP, NYT, LAT, Chicago Sun-Times). In San Francisco, demonstrators filled the Golden Gate Bridge. There were rallies in Toronto; Seattle (and here); Austin, Texas; Eugene and Portland, Oregon (also see here and here). GI-Net was covered twice, by NBC News and by NPR.

Cheering for Sen. Barack Obama
Cheering for Sen. Barack Obama.
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So how can you continue this student movement against genocide?

There are ten easy things you can do right now, among them joining the anti-genocide constituency, donating directly to the peacekeepers and writing to your member of Congress about the United Nations halving its aid to Darfurian refugees.

The movement isn't over, because the genocide isn't over. As Samantha Power told the students on Saturday, it's important to remember that it's not about coverage, or turnout, or membership or donations — it's about stopping the killing, stopping the genocide in Darfur. We will never know how many people may have been saved through our actions, or how the government of Sudan would have acted without such a visible movement against genocide. We should celebrate our victories and our steps — however small — toward stopping the genocide. But there is much more work to be done.

STAND group photo
STAND group photo.

Each miniature doll represents 1,000 victims of genocide in Darfur
Each miniature doll represents 1,000 victims of genocide in Darfur.

Dancing for Darfur
Dancing for Darfur.

Political attendees at the Rally to Stop Genocide included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Donald Payne, Rep. Jim Moran and others
Political attendees at the Rally to Stop Genocide included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Donald Payne, Rep. Jim Moran and others.

2006 Olympian Joey Cheek donated his winnings to a Darfur rehabilitation project, and spoke to members of the press about the need for effective peacekeeping in Darfur
2006 Olympian Joey Cheek donated his winnings to a Darfur rehabilitation project, and spoke to members of the press about the need for effective peacekeeping in Darfur.

Sen. Barack Obama
Sen. Barack Obama.
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