As widespread violence continues in Darfur, so do efforts to combat it. In the United States and in countries around the world, groups of people often gather at Sudanese embassies and other locations to demonstrate support for the people of Darfur.
In Washington, DC recently, a training session focused on teaching participants how to solicit support from high ranking US politicians and other decision-makers influential in making foreign policy. Voice of America’s Cole Mallard was there and files this report.
Some twenty activists for Darfur gathered at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Washington. They came to learn the most effective way to get their point across to Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and to the world at large. One of the speakers, Mohamed Yahya, is from Darfur. Yahya is the founder and executive director of “Damanga,” a coalition working to restore human rights and ethnic communities in Darfur. He says, “We educate the people of the United States of America and elsewhere, individuals, communities, organizations, synagogues, and even mosques and churches --all faith based. We educate them and we try to get them involved so as to work together to accomplish this mission.”
Yahya says in the last two years alone, Damanga has substantially increased awareness of the Darfur crisis: “We covered almost 40 states around the United States…and we reached over 100 organizations and over 150 universities, and schools and colleges. Also we founded the SaveDarfur Coalition, which right now includes or represents over 160 different organizations.”
The leader of Damanga says his advocacy group has been successful in helping over 20,000 refugees from Darfur get protection, resettlement, asylum, and citizenship in European countries, the United States, Canada and Australia
Yvonne Paretsky co-chairs an advocacy committee within another group of activists, the Darfur Interfaith Network. Her expertise as an independent consultant is in reaching officials in embassies, consulates and UN missions as part of the “I Act/Darfur” campaign -- designed to pressure government officials in the United States and throughout the international community to take steps toward protecting and resettling refugees from Darfur. She says, “My role is to move people to act, and to give them the tools to act with, to give people an incentive…to remind them of either their moral directive to protect life or the political correctness of intervening on behalf of the victims, or the financial benefit of pulling out from operations that fund weapons and forces, used to harm non-combatant civilians.”
Paretsky says anyone can take simple actions and she can show anyone the way, beginning with “…how to write letters and op. ed. [opinion-editorial] pieces, how to support divestment legislation, how to participate in vigils and marches, how to lobby Congress, how to make donations, how to visit embassies, how to sign petitions, how to teach others to act.”
Another speaker with lobbying expertise shared tips on effective ways to approach the media on the importance of increasing public awareness. Brooke Menschel is the assistant legislative director of the American Jewish Committee, or AJC, an organization that promotes democracy and diversity. She said the AJC has a vital interest in sharing its expertise.
“From our own history we understand the cost of the passage of time and the importance of public outrage. Since 2003 the widespread human rights abuses, including torture and rape, have become commonplace throughout the Darfur region of Sudan, and the world can’t continue to stand idly by as the violence against innocent Darfuries – men, women, children – continues.”
Menschel says the American Jewish Committee speaks out against atrocities on a local, national and international level: “Our 33 chapters around the country work closely with interfaith and human rights coalitions…. On the national level AJC advocates in Congress and the Administration for strong action on the part of the United States. On the international level, we’ve worked with the United Nations; we’ve worked with many foreign governments to promote a strong response on the part of the international community.”
Menschel says a worldwide education plan is needed that allows people to see what she calls the horrors in Darfur. She says she will continue to add her voice to the millions speaking out.
The meeting closed with suggestions and a flexible action plan tailored to the needs of the individual interests represented – all of whom pledged to continue their efforts.