Cornell University graduate student Sandra Lwanga rallies with Hillel to stop the genocide in Darfur.
“Never Again, Again.” “Stand Up and Be Heard.” “Do Not Stand Idly By.” “Never Forget: Save Darfur.” For the more than 1,000 Hillel student activists who traveled to Washington, D.C., for Sunday’s Rally to Stop Genocide, these words were not merely slogans on signs. They reflected both the past year’s worth of campus advocacy efforts and a continuing commitment to push for the end of the devastating violence in the Darfur region of Sudan, where 400,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million displaced from their homes since early 2003.
Coming just days after the Jewish community marked Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), the rally inspired scores of students from campuses as far away as Georgia, Wisconsin and Ontario to take all-night or early-morning bus rides to Washington to create a strong Hillel contingent among the estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people in attendance. Many came for the entire weekend to take part in the Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) conference at Georgetown University, where, in addition to participating in the rally, they lobbied their senators and representatives and joined in advocacy training sessions.
But regardless if they stayed in Washington for several days or several hours, the students knew that the fact they came at all mattered the most.
“You hear about the urgency of this issue, and you realize how much every person counts,” said Lexie Komisar, a freshman at Northwestern University. “It may not be happening in our backyard, but it’s happening in our world.”
Komisar and many of her fellow advocates cited a lack of publicity about the dire situation in Darfur as their inspiration to attend the rally and follow up with educational efforts back on their campuses.
“There is so little action being done. If not us, who’s going to go?” said Laura Temel, a freshman at Cornell University.
“It’s gotten frustrating because people don’t know what’s going on there. As many letters as you can send, people still don’t know,” added Sari Lorge, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who started the school’s Action Sudan group.
Toronto-area students Aviva Zimmerman and Elenna Mosoff said that while they believe the genocide gets more media coverage in Canada than in the United States, it still falls far short of the extent necessary to elicit governmental action.
“I want [the United Nations] to go in. Stop talking about it – let’s do it!” said Mosoff, who attends the University of Toronto.
Prior to the rally, many students stopped by Hillel’s Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center to grab breakfast and hear from Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger, who thanked them for coming but cautioned that their campaign is far from completion.
“Today is just the beginning of the efforts against the genocide in Sudan,” Messinger said. “We need to explain to people that this is a genocide.”
Rep. Wexler assured the students that their voices were making an impact on his colleagues in Congress and encouraged them to continue to press for changes in governmental and financial policies toward Sudan.
“Almost all congressmen and women today woke up contemplating what they have done already and what they can do in the future,” he said. “You are changing the dynamic of the political atmosphere regarding action on Darfur.”
For those students who were not able to travel to Washington, many participated in local rallies, such as the one co-sponsored by Texas Hillel at the state capitol in Austin. San Francisco Bay area students joined a silent vigil on the Golden Gate Bridge, and University of Washington students took part in a rally and march through the city.