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News :: Human Rights
“Not on our watch, not on our time!” The people of Massachusetts take action for a promise the world failed to keep: “Genocide: never again”
by Sophie Yon-Gharbi, photos by Ian Celecia
Email: Sophie.Gharbi (nospam) gmail.com
30 Apr 2007
If you take a Philosophy class, one of the first lessons you are taught is that History repeats itself over and over again, simply because of our incapacity as people to learn from past mistakes. For the past 60 years, we have witnessed over 10 genocides - in Nazi Germany, Cambodia, but also Afghanistan, Tibet, Iraq and most recently, Bosnia and Rwanda. Although the world keeps being outraged and promises to never let it happen again, it quickly looses interest in it and watches more or less passively as new ones unfold.
The situation in Sudan started in 2003, when the Muslim Janjaweed militia, backed and armed by the Sudanese government, attempted to rid the country of the black groups of the Darfur region by killing, raping and taking over villages, forcing the inhabitants to seek refuge in Chad. In 2004, the US pronounced the situation a Genocide. However, further action has been minimal at best.
So on Sunday April 29th, 2007, participating in an international day for Darfur, the MA Coalition to save Darfur and STAND (A student anti-genocide coalition) staged a die-in in Boston Commons in an attempt to draw attention to the 400,000 deaths and pressure our government to take action mainly by divestments -stopping the investments in companies that operate in Sudan- One of the major companies doing such being Fidelity, the die-in was followed by a March towards their world headquarters on Summer street.
Braving the chilly weather, 500 people were already gathered around the Boston Common Gazebo at 1pm. Grace Albritton, 17, from DC and Ryan Conli, 19, a student at North Eastern University, were amongst them. “Darfur was one of those things you heard about but didn’t really register with because it got so little coverage!” said Grace. Little by little, they discovered more about the situation and decided to get involved. They both found out about today’s action through their University’s Facebook groups and volunteered to be “pall bearers”, carrying one of the 4 wooden coffins towards the Fidelity building. “It’s hard to make policy in the US because oil is so powerful and usually have politics on their side, said Ryan, but, as people, the State works for us, so we are trying to get them to hear us!”
This is also the opinion of Martha Conwell, a 21- year-old student from Wheaton College and member of the Divestment From Sudan Committee. She came here today with fellow students Ruby Solloman, Kaylie Thompson and Amy Johnson. The lack of interest is, in their opinion, due to the lack of profit that can be made since “we’ve stripped Africa of all their resources!” they said. Martha added that “we have so many privileges here in the US, most people think: Why bother changing things?”
At 2 O’clock, the growing crowd- it seemed they were over 750 - wearing white to represent the international color of peace- lied down on the grass.
With their shirts reading “One world, one dream”; “Genocide is a bad movement”; or simply “Hope” they closed their eyes and thought of all the lives lost.
Shortly after, Or Rose, a rabbi and professor of Jewish Studies at Hebrew College, alongside Yousef Al-Asarma, a Palestinian PHD student, lead the group in a prayer to honor “our brothers and sisters of Sudan.” “It’s important that some of the voices heard together are religious ones considering that so much division comes from it!” simply stated Or Rose.
Maggie Tiernan and Nina McMurrey, both members of the Sudan Divestment Task Force explained what they were hoping to achieve: “The US should put financial pressure on China. This way, they might loose some of their diplomatic influence on Sudan and the Sudanese government will have to take action against the Genocide. In addition, if there are sanctions placed on Sudan, there is no way we can get their oil for our own profit!” “Asking for US troops in Sudan is not part of our campaign!” added Nina.
This is something Senator Ed Augustus agrees with. One of the very few politicians involved in today’s protests, and a sponsor alongside Senator Harriette Chandler and Representative Jay Kauffman of the Bill 2217, he feels that divestment strategies are something tangible to do. “This bill intends to dissociate the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from moral and financial concerns linked to investments companies doing business in Sudan that support the Sudanese government. The UN isn’t able to do much because China has veto power on the Security Council. (China also has most of the Sudanese oil access) “But, added the Senator, we have to have higher standards!
Some though, believe that the US has no reason to get involved. A small group known as the Green-Rainbow Party settled themselves on the side of the Gazebo with their own signs: “We’re here to protest this pro-war rally!” This group believes that Darfur is not a genocide but a civil war and is none of our business. “By demanding US involvement, it would only lead to the us getting some of the oil that so far “Only China has had access to!” stated David Rolde. John Walsh, another member thought “the US should stick to Humanitarian aid. Divestment will only hurt the country even more!”
Congressman McGovern was also present today: “We constantly hear the words never again. After Rwanda…We have to show it means something.” He believes that the lack of interest is because “we’re too focused in Iraq and have lost the moral leadership to rally the world. What took Bush so long to raise this issue? He gave his first speech about it just a few weeks ago. Things move too slowly.” However he agrees that there’s not much the US can do besides financial aid. “ Unfortunately the US forces won’t be welcomed!”
By 3 PM, the group had grown to approximately 1500 people and started walking to the beats of drums down Beacon Street. They were holding paper plates with on one side, a hand painted clock with the words: ”Not on our watch, not on our time” and on the other, a petition they had signed. Once in front of the Fidelity World Headquarters, where a lonesome security man (who usually does not work on a Sunday) stood guard, the group chanted louder and louder “ Fidelity you can’t hide: you are funding Genocide!” Volunteers placed the petitions into the coffins- they will later be counted and delivered to Fidelity as well as the MA coalition- and the crowd, respecting the permits obtained by the organizers, continued to march towards Government Center.
However, considering the failure of People magazine’s sexiest man of the year (George Clooney) to renew the interest in the issue, the situation is worrisome. A Peace Agreement was reached in 2006 but not followed through. The Sudanese are still waiting for a UN peacekeeping force to arrive and protect them; they’re still waiting for food to be delivered to the refugees camps in Chad- just as the World Food Program announces it was cutting its funds in half for lack of financial aid from foreign governments- In addition, because of the increase of violence, many aid organizations had to temporarily stop their work.
But more worrisome perhaps is the fact that another tragedy has yet to come to light. What hope is there for the 45,000 women of the region of Ituri, in the Democratic Republic of Congo who were raped? What future for the 300,000 men, women and children who have fled the violence considering their “genocide” hasn’t even made it into our mainstream media? To quote Amy Johnson: “Congo is another one of those not talked about because it’s in Africa. And no one cares about Africa!”
But today, in Boston, people cared. As Senator Augustus puts it: “Events like today call for attention!” Let’s hope so.
I will leave you with words heard at the rally: “ Don’t think you’re not making an impact…because you are!” It’s now up to you: Make phone calls; sign petitions; give donations… pressure your Senators to get involved, to pass S. Res.76 calling for further action in Sudan. After all, if they don’t listen to you, they might not be re-elected… and there’s nothing more a politician wants than to be re-elected!
For more information on the Congo:
This work is in the public domain.