Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Day for Darfur in Central Park


On Sunday I went to the Save Darfur rally organized by the Save Darfur Coalition, Amnesty International USA, and other groups. It was part of a worldwide effort to call attention to the precarious situation in Darfur and encourage world leaders to pressure the government of Sudan to allow a UN force into Darfur.

Last month, the UN Security Council authorized a peacekeeping force to enter Darfur to enforce the peace agreement signed in May of this year. However, the government of Sudan is not complying with the peace agreement and refuses to allow the UN troops into the region. The African Union force of 7,000 troops that is currently policing the region is set to leave at the end of September. The NY Times says 200,000 have died in the conflict so far; Save Darfur says 400,000. Right now Darfur is on the verge of slipping into chaos.

The rally was held in the East Meadow at Central Park near West 97th Street, also known as the Dustbowl to the frisbee and soccer players who play pick-up games there and kill all the grass. I guessed there were between 10,000 and 20,000 people at the rally, but these things are hard to gauge. The N.Y.P.D. estimated 20,000. There were lots of organized youth groups in matching t-shirts, and probably 80% of the people there were under 25. Many were wearing blue hats or shirts to symbolize the necessity of UN intervention.


Citizen Cope, Suzanne Vega, Big & Rich, and OAR played short sets and speakers encouraged the crowd to take action. Speakers included Mira Sorvino, Imam Talib of the Harlem-based Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood, and Simon Deng, a former slave from Sudan.

Chris Smith, a Republican Congressman from New Jersey, called for the African Union and the Security Council to fulfill their obligations to the people of Darfur and for Bush to appoint a special envoy for Darfur and to work to pass a bill on Darfur currently pending in the House. He said, “With Darfur, we can never say we didn’t know. Indifference, especially now, makes us complicit in genocide.”

Several speakers referenced Bush’s words written in the margins of a report on the Rwandan genocide, “Not on My Watch.” “Mr. President, this is your watch!” yelled David Rubenstein of the Save Darfur Coalition.

Speakers and posters in the crowd called out President al-Bashir of Sudan by name, excoriating him for the deaths for which he is responsible. Gloria White-Hammond, who organized a recent campaign to deliver a million postcards to the White House calling for President Bush to take action, called on China to stop protecting the Sudanese government. Mira Sorvino described in graphic detail the murder and mutilation of individual children in the conflict and wondered why, two years after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell labeled the conflict a genocide, more has not been done to stop the killing. “As long as they’re with us in the War on Terror, they can murder their citizens,” she speculated.


Big & Rich, a country music group, sang about Jesus in their first two songs to several thousand secular and Jewish East Coast kids, who they encouraged to “fight for life.” “It’s not a political thing,” said singer Big Kenny (in the picture above), “it’s a human thing.”

I left as OAR covered Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’. I have to say the whole thing was kind of amazing. In a time of political polarization, Darfur unites religious conservatives and secular urbanites, the reddest and bluest parts of our country. And while an inexcusable number of people have died while we in the West watched, this level of awareness and mobilization has not occurred with any previous genocide, from Armenia to the Holocaust to Rwanda. Based on what I saw today, I have some hope that western governments will listen to their citizens and respond by pressuring Sudan to stop the killing. And I feel that in this movement are the seeds to a broader foreign policy that can bring Americans together instead of pushing them apart.


"Southern Sudanese in Solidarity with Darfur." Posted by Picasa

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