We were among the 30,000 who joined in the Central Park rally bemoaned by Elizabeth Moore in her Tuesday column, “Obnoxious passivists can do more for Darfur than protest.” While Moore dismisses all protesters as exhibitionist hipsters, we were not there to jeer at bystanders without any “actual result” in mind, but rather to urge the United Nations to dispatch peacekeepers to Darfur before the African Union troops depart.
No protester is so naive as to think that one rally can resolve a human rights crisis. But rallies and protests have been one of the most effective tools of social justice movements. Surely Moore would not tell those who joined in the March on Washington in 1963 that “real results and real change never matter to the protester.”
For Moore to believe she understands the minds of all protesters is both ignorant and presumptuous. Acts of protest are calls to action. And in the case of the Rally for Darfur that Moore alluded to, action followed. The date of the rally was chosen to coincide with the opening of the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19. That week, the president of Sudan came to the United States to meet with top officials in spite of his previous refusals to attend. While he was here, pressure from all sides pushed him to extend the African Union troops’ mandate from Sept. 30 until the end of the year, ensuring that Darfur will not be completely abandoned in the coming months. The rally in New York was one of 50 across the globe, so while the American protesters alone may not have tipped the balance, it seems that collectively, these rallies had an impact.
And this is not the first time rallies have helped change the political landscape in Darfur. The day after an even larger Save Darfur rally last April in Washington, D.C., President Bush dispatched a representative to the Darfur peace talks, and days later a peace agreement was reached. While this peace agreement has broken down, the reaction of our government and international leaders reflects the potential power of these rallies.
Here at Yale, the student group Students Taking Action Now: Darfur refused to let our “passion and care die with the dissipating crowds,” and Moore is deluding herself if she thinks that rallies are the only efforts that Darfur activists have made to help end the genocide. STAND members are fighting this battle on many fronts. This past week we continued our efforts with a “luxury fast” that raised over $500 for Darfur in four hours.
Moore would have us put down all of our posters and commit ourselves only to these fundraising efforts, but she forgets that the Darfur crisis is about more than disease and starvation. While our dollars can alleviate the suffering of refugees, they can’t stop the slaughter. The people of Darfur face something much worse than starvation: genocide. Without the peacekeepers demanded at the Central Park rally, there wouldn’t be anyone left to feed. Stopping genocide demands more than money — it requires political will. And political will requires a commitment beyond the pocketbook.
Our basic morality urges us to demonstrate to our representatives that we care about this issue. In the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Sen. Paul Simon commented, “If every member of the House of Representatives and Senate had received 100 letters from people back home saying we have to do something about Rwanda when the crisis was first developing, I think the response would have been different.” To get those 100 letters, we need to make people aware of the problem. We may even have to yell.
Protests have had a direct effect on the action being taken for the people of Darfur. We challenge Moore now to do her research and still stand by her claim that protests are futile and serve only to “produce a lot of extra garbage.”
Elissa Berwick, Hanna Sufrin, Betny Townsend and Mark Beyersdorf are members of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur.