Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
March 1, 2024

Student groups rally for Darfur in capital

By Patrice Hutton | May 6, 2006

While chants of "Save Darfur" and "Never Again" resounded throughout the National Mall in Washington, the rally could also be heard 14 hours away on shortwave radio.

We -- 32 Hopkins students, congressional leaders, clergymen, George Clooney and 20,000 other activists -- could only picture the Darfurians huddled around radios in the refugee camps to which they'd been forced to flee in neighboring Chad.

But one man didn't have to picture the sight. Poking up from above the sea of activists was a sign that read, "I saw it, I escaped it, stop it now!"

On Sunday, I participated in the Rally to End Genocide in Darfur. A year ago, in April, was when I started attending Darfur rallies -- which at the time, were an hopeless sight. Fifteen of us would gather in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, only to have Secret Service agents snicker at our turnout.

Sunday's rally attendees -- black, white, American, African, Armenian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian -- filled the stretch of the Mall that has historically served as a forum for Americans concerned about their civil rights, their sons fighting in Vietnam or their rights as women. But these ralliers were gathered out of a common concern for, as Congressmen Capuano said, "people they'll never even meet and never even share a meal with."

Nobel Peace recipient Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, opened the rally's program of over 30 speakers by noting that when he was held in a concentration camp, there were no rallies speaking out on his behalf.

"When we were there, nobody came," Wiesel said.

Holding signs that read, "Never again means never again," "Don't be a bystander," "Not on our watch" (echoing the notes that President Bush scribbled in the margin of a report on Rwanda) and "1,000 calories a day is not enough" (in response to the previous day's announcement that the World Food Program had cut Darfurians' meal aid in half), the crowd roared.

Featuring speeches by George and father Nick Clooney, Senator Barack Obama, Reverend Al Sharpton, Congresswomen Nancy Pelosi, Sudanese NBA star Manule Bol, Pulitzer Prize winning author Samantha Power, and Erin Mazursky, executive director of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND), the rally lasted nearly three hours.

"Let history write that we came together in the first decade of the 21st century and stopped genocide in Sudan," preached the Reverend Al Sharpton.

"We can't stand still while women are being raped, children are sold; while we sit in our comfortable homes and watch the bloodshed in Darfur," he added.

Students activists began behind the scenes preparations for the rally on Friday, when over 850 gathered on the ninth floor of the Hart Senate Office Building to receive lobbying training. Throughout the afternoon, students attended meetings with their representatives, demanding that Congress appropriate $173 million in emergency funding to Darfur for this year and $700 million for 2007, in addition to asking for passage of House Resolution 723, which demands stronger NATO peacekeeping presence.

"Students have stood at the forefront of the movement to stop this genocide," Mazursky said.

While students attended appointments with their elected officials, I headed to the GI-Net -- which operates out of two cheaply rented pods in the Center for American Progress building in downtown Washington -- to send out press releases for the day and weekend's events. Press coverage about Darfur was already abuzz -- that morning, five congressmen, Ruth Messenger of the American Jewish World Service, and Patrick Schmitt, former executive director of STAND had been arrested for civil disobedience at the Embassy of Sudan.

Hopkins students -- in combination with thousands of students from around the world -- have been preparing for the rally since Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND)'s Power to Protect: A Million Voices for Darfur Campaign began in January.

JHU STAND participated in the Power to Protect Campaign throughout the spring by hosting a speaking series which featured Simon Deng of the Sudan Freedom Walk, Jerry Erlich, a pediatrician from Doctors Without Borders, and Juan Mendez, the Special Advisor to the United Nations on the Prevention of Genocide.


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