Mohamed Elgadi and Magda Ahmed are heading for San Francisco as I write. Read more about the protest for Darfur below -- written by Dave Eggers, author most recently of the novel “What Is the What.”
THERE’S only one stop in North America on the Olympic torch’s 95,000-mile trip from Athens to Beijing, and that’s here. On April 9, standing side by side with sports fans along the parade route, there will be thousands of protesters who hope to bring attention to China’s complicity in the genocide in Darfur.
When the presidential campaigns swung, ever so briefly, through California, those advocating for Darfur tried to get the issue into the debates and on television. But nothing seemed to work. The last time a questioner raised the issue in a significant forum was during one of the YouTube debates last year.
During a speech in November, Hillary Rodham Clinton said of Darfur: “Every day we fail to act is a betrayal of our common values.” In a YouTube video last year, Barack Obama said: “We can’t say ‘never again,’ and then allow it to happen again.” In a similar video, John McCain said the United States “has the obligation to lead, to act.” But since then, the campaigns have been quiet on the subject of the 21st century’s first genocide.
It’s easy in California, far from the active primaries and farther from Sudan and China, to feel powerless. That’s why the organizers of the protest feel they have a rare opportunity to put the crisis back on the national stage. In 418,000 copies of the April 4 edition of The San Francisco Chronicle, subscribers will get a placard that on one side explains the connections between China and the genocide in Sudan, and on the other side says, “China: Extinguish the Flames of Genocide in Darfur.” How’s that for an early morning jolt?
The placard and the protest are the work of a group called the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition. Its thousand or so members have been agitating for more than a year to remind Americans that the violence in Sudan is increasing and that the time to act is now.
There are, of course, plenty of other issues that require discussion in this campaign, and Sudan can’t be part of every stump speech. Then again, maybe it should be. Numerous reports, in Darfur and in southern Sudan, indicate that violence is at a two-year high and that the country might be on the verge of a new and perhaps all-encompassing conflict.
My friend Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee from Sudan, just got back from southern Sudan last week where he was beginning construction on an educational complex in his hometown. He reports that along the southern border, there have been weekly clashes between the Sudanese Army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, a rebel group that fought a long and protracted war with the government in the 1980s and ’90s.
Hundreds have been killed, and a good portion of the residents of the south fear there will again be war. If this happens, it could make the conflict in Darfur look like a skirmish.
“All the candidates have plans for what they’ll do in Sudan if they’re elected,” said Martina Knee of the Bay Area coalition’s executive committee. “But that’s too late, too long from now. They have to use their bully pulpit now.”
Will the demonstrators lining the parade route bring the topic back into the campaign and into the public consciousness? Is it audacious to hope?