If President Obama looked out his window last weekend, he would have seen more than two hundred people in the park outside the White House wearing tee shirts and carrying signs calling for peace in Sudan and South Sudan. He would have heard a little music, too, from performers as diverse as hip hop Sudanese singer Mista D, to the guitar strumming Rabbi Elhan “Sonny” Schnitzer of Bethesda, Maryland.
This is the third year people from churches, mosques, and synagogues around the world have gathered in Washington, DC to call attention to suffering in both Sudans and to pressure government leaders to do something about it.
Naimet Ahmadi, a member of the Fur tribe in Sudan and an activist for Darfuri women, said her goal for the rally was to bring the president of Sudan to justice.
“All of the people who are here tell their representatives, their governors, the Obama administration, and leaders of the United Nations, particularly those who are members of the UN Security Council, be serious about holding Omar al-Bashir accountable,” Ahmadi said.
The International Criminal Court has charged Omar al-Bashir with crimes against humanity.
But the rally was not just political. Reverend Vincent Allen from the Upper Room Baptist Church asked the participants to bow their heads in prayer. “As Christians, as Muslims, as Jews, or whatever persuasions of faith from which we come, we pray for the beginning of a new way of life, for freedom and peace,” he said.
Abdel Maliky, a Muslim from Benin, echoed the reverend’s emphasis on the importance of an interfaith response to the crisis in Sudans, especially since he believes the predominantly Muslim government of Sudan is using religion as a
wedge to create conflict with the predominantly Christian south.
“It’s not about religion,” Maliky said. “It’s people using religion to do what we’re doing to oppress people’s civil rights and oppress the right of the other people.”
Beverly Goines, an assistant pastor at National City Christian Church here in Washington, DC, came to the rally after her services ended. Still in her church dress, she walked back and forth in front of the White House with a sign that read, “We’ll Never Forget.”
“The bottom line is that we’re all God’s creation. And that at least for me and my understanding, we are our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers. And we have to speak up and stand for how we believe God would have us treat each other,” Goines said.
About fifty members of Congress recently signed a resolution calling for an end to human rights violations in Sudan. But it is unclear whether those intentions will be turned into action.
The most concrete accomplishment of the rally so far was to raise almost twenty thousand dollars to build a kitchen in a primary school in South Sudan’s Turalie, so students can have a meal prepared with supplies from the UN’s World Food Program. Yet even the rally organizers recognize that the people they want to help need far more.
Jen Marlowe, an author and human rights advocate, said, “As so many people from South Sudan told me over and over: Peace means development. Peace means the ability to send your children to school, and to give them access to health care.”
Until those aims are accomplished, activists for both Sudans say they will continue to call attention to the conflict, by protesting, praying, and singing.