Student activists can help Darfur

We must take action to end the suffering in Darfur.

Since 2003, the government-backed Janjaweed militia has killed approximately 400,000 civilians in Darfur, Sudan. That is the equivalent of almost seven Universities of Minnesota. According to one statistic, an average of 10,000 people die every day. At that rate, in only six days the entire student body of the University of Minnesota would be gone.

Civilians in Darfur continue to suffer, as they have for three years, and many remain ignorant. If ignorance is bliss, it is bliss only because it protects us from having to get up off our couches, sunken from too much sitting, and do something. Yet, our ignorance is not entirely our fault. Last summer, I turned on CNN to find – not coverage of the war in Lebanon, not the war in Iraq, not Darfur, but TomKat’s engagement and Mel Gibson’s arrest.

In fall 2004, the United States declared that the crisis in Darfur was genocide, but it has not been quick to take action to stop the killings. The United Nations has not yet been successful in placing UN peacekeeping forces on the ground to protect civilians either.

If the United States and the United Nations haven’t done anything about Darfur, can students really make a difference? Skeptics might frown.

Fortunately, I can prove the skeptics wrong. Citizen activism, especially student activism, has a history of influencing policy. The Darfur student movement has been called the largest student movement since the Anti-Apartheid movement 25 years ago. The Anti-Apartheid movement was successful in pressuring South Africa to abandon its racist policies and there is no reason why the Darfur movement can’t do the same.

People ask me why they should care about Darfur. Personally, I don’t care if people share my zealous passion about what is happening in Darfur, as long as they sign my petition and tell a friend to do the same. Still, the Darfur Genocide has been called the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time and, as was promised after the Holocaust and after the Rwandan Genocide, we have a moral obligation to “Never Again” allow such an atrocity to occur.

Yes, Africa is an ocean away and the media portrays it as a “dying continent.” Yes, the untrue sentiment is that Africa’s condition – a combination of AIDS, hunger, poverty and war, according to the American media – is hopeless. We see so many images of violence and starving children in Africa that we have become desensitized, and people tune out what little they hear about Darfur because it appears to many to be just another African crisis.

Yet, like the people of Darfur, we are human. We could be the ones running from a murderous militia. As Martin Niemoller famously wrote, “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist Ö Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew Ö Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.” No, genocide is not going to happen in the United States, but that does not exempt us from empathizing with the Darfurians and from taking action to end their suffering.

I challenge you to pick up the phone now and call 1-800-GENOCIDE, an anti-genocide hotline run by Genocide Intervention Network, and tell Gov. Pawlenty that you support ending the Darfur Genocide.

Hannah Baldwin is the president of STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition, which meets in Coffman Union room 226B every Wednesday at 5:30. Please send comments to [email protected]