A young man was simply passing by the Global Day for Darfur rally in New York City when he stopped and decided to give an impromptu speech to the nearly 1,000 participants gathered there.
And while the almost 100 Yale students who bused down Sunday for the rally might not remember his name, they won’t forget his commitment.
Multiple students recounted the simple but eloquent speech the anonymous man gave at the rally — one of many simultaneous events worldwide that sought to focus attention on the ongoing humanitarian crisis, which has so far killed at least 200,000 people and displaced more than 2 million into refugee camps.
The man had served in Iraq with the U.S. military and now, his service complete, was planning to join the Nigerian Army and request an assignment with a newly formed African Union peacekeeping force that will soon be serving in Sudan’s Darfur region.
Even for those who aren’t enlisting, the protest, which took place opposite the United Nations headquarters, provided an outlet to challenge world leaders to bring an end to the violence. The event interspersed speakers from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch with personal video clips from activists, politicians and doctors around the globe collected as part of the online activist effort “24 Hours for Darfur.”
Many, including President George W. Bush ’68, have called the crisis a “genocide,” though the U.N. has refrained from characterizing it as such. Yale participants described the event as more “mellow” than last year’s similar rally: more “inspiring” than “riling,” and focused on solidarity rather than advocacy.
Former STAND coordinator Mark Beyersdorf ’08 said that activism for Darfur can seem futile at times, but that the protest reminded him how much worse the situation might be if activist organizations were not trying to bring attention to the situation.
“It’s nice not to feel like a lonely voice,” Beyersdorf said. “There is some general awareness, at least, as opposed to Rwanda, where no one was paying attention.”
Brad Schecter ’10, who had no previous experience with Darfur activism, said he chose to attend only after hearing about the event from STAND organizers. Schecter said he came away from the rally with a much better understanding of the situation.
For some students, the surprise speaker’s address was more powerful than anything the event organizers could have planned.
Caitlin Clements ’10, STAND co-coordinator, said the man’s determination to go above and beyond typical advocacy was inspiring.
“What he is doing would be a difficult thing for even a lot of the activists out there today,” Clements said.
Back at Yale, campus groups other than STAND are also making efforts to prevent violence in Darfur.
The Yale chapter of Amnesty International is working to raise funds “to adopt a village,” as part of a larger “Eyes on Darfur” project sponsored by the international organization, said Miguel Veloz ’10, the group’s publicity coordinator.
The effort — located on the Web at www.eyesondarfur.org — focuses on monitoring satellite images of villages which Amnesty International has deemed “at risk” for further attacks.
“We want to watch over these villages to prevent anything from happening,” Veloz said. “But if anything does happen, we’ll know.”
In recent developments, Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir promised cooperation with a new joint peacekeeping force when he met with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi this past Friday. The joint U.N.-African Union force of 26,000 peacekeepers — a combination of soldiers and police approved by the U.N. — is expected to begin deploying in October.