On Saturday morning, I loaded a 60-seat bus along with six other members of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia and headed south on I-95. We were traveling to Washington, DC to participate in a small but very important rally with the goal of bringing to an end the genocide currently being perpetrated against the black Muslim population in the Sudanese region of Darfur. On the way down to DC we viewed a video called 'A Million Voices for Darfur' and enjoyed an excellent lecture by Hans Wuerth, professor emeritus of German at Moravian College, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Dr. Wuerth first put Sudan into perspective. It is the largest country in Africa by area, 1/4 the size of the United States. Laid across the US Map, Sudan would stretch along the entire East Coast from Maine to Florida. The Darfur region is 1/5 of Sudan, equivalent to the size of France!
This region in Sudan is where the Arab Muslim world meets the Black Muslim world, and has experienced a long conflict between the nomadic pastoralists and the farmers of the Sahel. As more exploitative land use patterns have developed in this region, these two world have collided. The story brings to mind the conflict between farmers and ranchers in the American Great Plains, only in this case the national government has clearly taken one group's side: the ranchers. Young unemployed men were trained and armed to advance government aims in the region. This is the infamous Janjaweed, destroying the villages and sytematically raping the women of the region. Their actions where brought to the world's attention by Brian Steidle, a former Marine captain and observer to the African Union peacekeeping forces. His photographs show refugee camps being attacked by punks in helicopter gunships and a despairing population left in their wake.
The Save Darfur Coalition has derived much of its energy from an effective mobilization on college campuses, and the protest was remarkable for the the range of the participants' ages. Families with their children, high school and college students as well as elderly persons - each affirming that they would never let genocide happen again without protest. "Never Again!" or as Pres. Bush scrawled on the margins of a report on the Rwandan genoide, "Not on my watch!" As the Washington Post writer indicated, this was a protest that drew from across the political spectrum, African American leaders, Muslim and Jewish leaders as well as distinguished African speakers. Taking the lead in this effort have been two groups that know all too well the ways of means of genocide: The American Jewish and Armenian populations. I was particularly proud to see the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Rev. William Sinkford, leading off with an ecumenical and apt prayer. Some of the 'stars' that spoke at the rally include Eli Wiesel, Rev. Al Sharpton, Barak Obama, and Nick and George Clooney.
I was blessed to be attending the rally with an energetic group of young UU activists. We have been talking about way to leverage the latent energy within our congregation to make a difference in our communities. Like the Sudan, Philadelphia has its own racial and class divides that we must be ever vigilant to overcome. Getting older and younger UUs on the same page is an important goal of our transition to a new settled minister at the First Unitarian Church. Now that we have active Young Adults and 35PLUUS groups, how do we set up mechanisms to coordinate joing activities? This trip to Washington was a sign of tangible collaboration, and I hope to witness more of it incoming months.
Since returning to Philadelphia, I have been speaking individually with my colleagues here that the Institute on Disabilities and they have been remarkably eager to make their feelings known. In Washington it was announced that so far 760,000 postcards have been delivered to George W. Bush. I'll be sending 10 more tomorrow. Let me share just one of these messages.
Dear President Bush,
Please express your humanity by doing everything that our country is able to do to stop the atrocities.
Sincerely yours, Carol Marfisi