Students call for action in Darfur

Last Saturday, more than 200 people met at Freedom Corner in downtown Pittsburgh to take to the streets in a march to show their awareness and support of ending the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. The crowd marched about a mile from Freedom Corner to Market Square, where it staged a rally.

Nessa E. French, a sophomore majoring in ethics, history, and public policy and international relations, and president of the university’s chapter of Amnesty International, was one of the rally’s guest speakers.

French emphasized the importance of raising awareness of conflict that affects a group’s human rights, even if it’s thousands of miles away.

“I think there’s always a debate of national aid versus providing aid internationally. Nothing we experience here is by any means comparable to the conflict in Darfur. As bad as some things might be for some people locally, at least our government is not systematically killing a targeted group of people,” she said.

Since the start of the genocide in 2003, nearly half a million have died and another 2.5 million have been displaced from their homes in Darfur. The conflict is taking place between the Janjaweed, Bedouin Arab militia group that the Sudanese government denies supporting, and the three ethnic groups of Darfur — the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit.

Amnesty International was one of the major forces behind Saturday’s march. The group distributed flyers and information cards and held a T-shirt campaign to publicize the event in the weeks leading up to the march.

Candice Warthen, one of a group of students from Pennsylvania State University who attended the march, echoed French’s sentiments.
“We’re here to show the people of Darfur that people actually care,” Warthen said.

City Councilman Bill Peduto emphasized the importance of student participation in the event.

“I want to thank all the students here today. You are the inspiration for people like myself to be here, and for thinking about this subject. I thank you for thinking about the girls your age that are being raped and the boys that are being slaughtered [in Darfur],” he said in his speech at the rally.

In addition to students from local colleges and universities, Pittsburgh residents from several different activist groups, including the Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy, the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition, and Code Pink, came out to support the march and rally.

“The Sudanese government is the enemy of the United States,” said Mohammed Yahya, who also spoke at Market Square. “It hosted Osama Bin Laden, a man that resulted in the death of thousands in the U.S., and now it is the force behind the death of thousands of its own people. Why are [people] still supporting a terrorist government?”

Yahya is an expatriated Darfurian and activist of the Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy, a national organization with members throughout the United States.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Believe me, today I feel that [the] people in Darfur and I know that we are not alone,” he said.

Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Doyle supported Yahya’s call to action.

“Where else should we be today, except here and saying ‘No more’? We need to keep the pressure on. That’s the only thing they will understand in the UN,” Doyle said.
David Rosenberg, founder of the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition (PDEC), urged participants at Market Square to sign postcards fashioned in the style of an overdue notice addressed to President Bush, stating that “The United Nations and the international community promised the people of Darfur 20,000 peacekeeping troops by October 1, 2006.”

Following this statement, signers filled in the current date, and then the number of days that these troops are late — 208 as of the day of the march.

The group has collected over 15,000 postcards signed by local residents.

Francine Porter, coordinator of Code Pink: Women for Peace, attended the march with her 9-year-old daughter, Sarah.

“I really think it’s important for children to learn about the suffering of kids outside the world [they are used to],” Porter said.

French agreed. “I don’t think that because Pittsburgh has its own issues locally, like any other city that has to deal with issues such as unemployment and poverty, that we can just ignore the struggles that occur on an international level,” she said.

The march and rally was not the only event last weekend held to raise awareness of African refugees. On Saturday night, Pittsburgh residents gathered in Schenley Park to spend the night in cardboard boxes and sleeping bags and to forgo food and water in order to promote peace talks in northern Uganda. For the past 21 years, the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda has abducted thousands of children and forced them to fight in a violent guerilla war. In response, the Ugandan government evicted more than 1.5 million citizens from their homes and relocated them into camps. Among the participants was Carnegie Mellon physics professor Michelle Hicks.