Thursday, October 25, 2007

How to Care About Darfur

Last month an article, "Why We Don't Care About Darfur," was published in the September issue of O Magazine. In it, the author cites scientific research that shows that humans have a much easier time being empathetic toward individuals than toward groups. Researchers note that as the number of affected persons increases in a tragedy, such as in genocide, the human brain's ability to process such heart-rending information becomes more difficult. The assigned term is 'psychic numbing.'

As a defense mechanism, psychic numbing is invaluable because it protects us from being constantly assaulted by grief; however, this mechanism can also hinder very generous and good people from taking much needed action in times of great need - - like now in Darfur. The only way around this defense mechanism and toward positive action is by conscious effort. One must make a conscious effort to see beyond the statistics. This means we must make a choice to commit time to educate ourselves about the specifics of the genocide. We must reflect on these specifics and try to truly comprehend the range of struggles the people of Darfur are facing. We must consciously try to achieve and maintain a level of compassion that prompts action, instead of surrender.

For some, having a face to associate with a struggle helps make it more "real" to them. I rely on this technique at times. On those days when the slow progress toward ending the genocide leaves me feeling discouraged and powerless, I see the face of a woman. I have never met this woman. I saw her once in a documentary about the genocide in Rwanda. In the documentary, she eloquently pleads for help from the news crew that is filming her and about a hundred other Tutsis that have gathered together after fleeing their Hutu pursuers. She knows once the film crew leaves, the Hutus mulling about at the periphery of the gathering area will attack. And, that's what happens: the film crew leaves and the Hutus slaughter every person in that group, including the beautiful, well-spoken woman.

I imagine standing face to face with this woman. She asks me what I am doing to help end the genocide in Darfur. I look at her and wait for words to form, but they never do. Instead, every time, I simply get back to learning and doing more about Darfur. It is the only answer I feel she deserves. I sometimes feel no less discouraged, but I am always reminded of why to keep trying -- people's lives depend on it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Meeting with Representative Bob Lynn

On Sunday, Oct. 14th, three of us met with Representative Bob Lynn (House District 31 - Anchorage)and his aide Dirk Moffatt. For almost two hours we talked about the situation in Darfur. We presented our request for Rep. Lynn's support of legislation calling for the divestment of the Permanent Fund and state pension funds, and before we knew it Rep. Lynn stated that he plans to sponsor legislation to address targeted divestment of the Alaska State Permanent Fund from Sudan during the next session. His office has already begun drafting the legislation!!

And, if that wasn't enough, Rep. Lynn also provided a list of other representatives and senators that he believed would be sympathetic to this cause. We will begin contacting them this week. He warned us that this divestment campaign would not be an easy one. We certainly expect that - money's involved - but this campaign is certainly a worthy one.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Yesterday's group meeting was absolutely inspiring. So many new faces, new enthusiasm, and new ideas! Thanks to the showing of The Devil Came on Horseback at the Bear Tooth earlier this month, our group listing on the Save Darfur coalition website, and Tamar's recent speaking engagement at UAA, Save Darfur Anchorage tripled in size in just two weeks. Growth means more people are not only more aware of the current plight of the Darfuris, but more people are also taking action to help end their suffering!

New members include students from UAA, some of which are founding members of the local chapter of STAND (a student anti-genocide coalition), newcomers to Anchorage, and long-time Anchorage residents that are for the first time taking action that, dare I say it, looks a lot like activism. With each new member our skill base grows, our determination is bolstered, and our ability to raise more awareness about the genocide grows exponentially. Perfection, a ridiculously high IQ, and extreme wealth are not requirments for group participation (not that people with these attributes would be turned away), a person need only the desire to do what he or she can to help end a genocide that has gone on FAR too long.

At Saturday's meeting, we decided to increase our outreach to the University of Alaska Anchorage, and our new student members have agreed to spearhead this effort. They will also look into beginning a campaign for divestment of the University's holdings in companies complicit in the Darfur genocide. Any APU students out there?

We are also going to reach out more to faith-based organizations with the help of some of our other new members who have ties to St. Elizabeth's, St. Anthony's, Faith Christian, and other churches. Some of our more seasoned group participants have put together some events scheduled for January: Holy Cathedral will be doing a letter writing campaign and we will speak at the Unitarian Universalist Church.

All ideas for outreach are welcome. All efforts to raise awareness are encouraged. And, all our new group members are greatly appreciated!!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Not On Our Dime!

Often when I speak with people about the genocide in Darfur, I hear "that's so sad that there is nothing I can do about it." My breath catches every time. Not because I'm tiring of this excuse, but because I know it is not an excuse. People truly believe there is nothing we Alaskans on the other side of the world from Darfur can do to help. We Alaskans, as Americans living in the greatest democracy in the world, feel powerless to help the people of Darfur. I assure you all, we are not powerless! We are each the epicenter of incredible power.

Before I became involved with the Save Darfur campaign, I had never once written, called, or emailed my state or national representatives. This activism thing is all new to me. I can't say I'm yet completely comfortable with it, but I simply cannot and will not tolerate genocide. It's genocide for pete's sake! As a child I could not understand how we as a country waited so long to help end the Holocaust, how people in America went about their lives without demanding more government action as other human beings were being brutally killed en mass.

I now know how. For three years, I heard bits and pieces about Darfur, and did nothing. I did my laundry, I worked, I grocery shopped, I watched Grey's Anatomy, but I never once made an extra effort to learn more and do more until about six months ago. I am ashamed it has taken me this long and I plan on wasting no more time. I truly believe that as an American I am one of the luckiest people in this world because I am free to speak out, free to ask more of my government on this issue, and free to do those two things as often as I need to to be heard.

Today I wrote Senator Murkowski and Senator Stevens to ask them to vote in favor of the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act. The Act would authorize states and local governments to prohibit the investment of State assets in any company that has a qualifying business relationship with Sudan. As Senator Sam Brownback put it, "We've said often 'never again' and taken up the pledge of 'not on our watch.' We also need to take up the pledge 'NOT ON OUR DIME.'"

President Bush doesn't want Congress to administer any new sanctions because he thinks there is progress towards reconciliation. I asked our Senators not to be as gullible as our president. After all, just today the Sudanese government and their militias attacked a Darfur town -- the town controlled by the only Darfur rebel group to sign a 2006 peace deal!

Unlike President Bush, I don't want to wait and see, because what I think I'll see is just more of the same...evil brutality. I also don't want my money going toward prolonging this genocide. I want Alaska to divest our state pension funds and the permanent fund, and I want the right of states to divest to be beyond question. Please write, call, or email Senators Murkowski and Stevens to vote in favor of the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act. Exert your power, my fellow lucky and powerful Americans!!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Call to Write State Represenatives and Senators

The next session of the Alaska State Legislature begins in January of 2008. Our goal is that during that session, legislation is introduced and passed that will divest the permanent fund and state pension funds from targeted companies that meet the following criteria: 1) have a business relationship with Sudan, 2) impart minimal benefit to the country's underprivileged, 3) have demonstrated no substantial corporate governance policy regarding the Darfur situation. Our hope is that every single State Senator and Representative will vote for that legislation to show that Alaskans will not condone genocide.

Our State representatives are our voice. They want to hear what our priorities are and we ask that those of you who believe ending the genocide in Darfur is a top priority tell them that we want our state to exert as much economic pressure on offending companies as it can. Ask them to pass legislation to divest state pension funds and the permanent fund from these "worst offender" companies.

A personalized, handwritten letter or postcard will get more attention than a phone call or an email, so we recommend getting the old pen and paper out. Be brief, be factual, and be polite. Tell them that you are a constituent, and include your home address. Ask them to follow up with you. Here is a sample if you need some inspiration, but your own words are much more effective.


In a step toward ending the ongoing genocide in Darfur, I would like Alaska to divest both its Permanent Fund and pension funds from Sudan. As your constituent, I ask that you support divestment from the handful of foreign businesses involved with the Sudanese regime and complicit in the first genocide of the 21st century.


Your Name

Your Address

If you do not know who your State Representative and Senator are and you live in Anchorage, you can look them up by clicking here . Type in your address, chose "Political" under the Category drop-down menu, and hit the Find button. Scroll down until you find the name of your Rep and Senator. If you live outside of Anchorage, find your community by clicking here. Your Rep and Senator's names are listed with a link to their websites.

Click here to find the address of your State Represenative and click here for your Senator's address.

Please leave a comment on this blog to let us know who you wrote so we can track our efforts. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Divestment Op-Ed in the ADN

Click here to read Shawn's article about divesting the permanent fund and state pension funds. The article appeared in the September 27th edition of the Anchorage Daily News. To continue this important public discussion, we encourage submittal of letters to the editor showing support for this effort.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Movie Raises Awareness

All we can say is "WOW!" Alaskans came out in full force for The Devil Came on Horseback showing and those of us working the Save Darfur Anchorage table in the lobby were awed by the crowd's interest and support. THANK YOU!

We distributed all 120 "4 Actions for Darfur" bookmarks and all 100 of the postcard sets for viewers to send to their state legislator and representative to request targeted divestment of the permanent fund and State of Alaska pension funds from companies on Sudan Divestment Task Force's "worst offenders" list. For those who left their contact information with us, we hope to get back to you in the next few days with the information you requested.

The next Save Darfur Anchorage meeting will be on Saturday, the 13th of October at 2pm. The location will be posted soon. (Tomorrow we're going to look for a meeting venue bigger than our usual because we anticipate that a lot more folks will be joining us after watching Brian Steidle's incredible story.)